Wisconsin law removes crucial barrier to lead pipe replacement

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director and Sam Lovell, Project Specialist

Yesterday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed legislation that takes an important step to replacing the 240,000 lead service lines (LSLs) in communities across the state. SB-48 allows municipalities and water utilities to provide financial assistance to property owners to replace LSLs on private property. We described the legislation in an earlier blog – and applauded the critical work of state advocates in building support for the law.

Ownership issues can complicate LSL replacement, as the property owner typically is responsible for the portion of the water service line on private property. This split-ownership is a crucial challenge for accelerating replacement programs because some states prohibit the use of rate funds to replace LSLs on private property.

Wisconsin now joins the ranks of Pennsylvania and Indiana as the third state since Flint became national news to overcome this challenge by passing legislation allowing water utilities to use rates paid by customers to replace LSLs.

The law enables a utility or municipality to secure the state Public Service Commission’s approval to provide customers with financial assistance if:

  • The city, town or village has passed an ordinance:
    • Authorizing the assistance; and
    • Requiring each owner to replace customer-side water service lines that contain lead; and
  • The utility-side water service line either does not contain lead or will be replaced at the same time as the customer-side; and
  • The financial assistance is limited as follows:
    • Financial assistance is not more than 1/2 of the total cost to property owners;
    • Loans to property owners are not forgivable; and
    • Each owner in a class of customers are treated equally with respect to financial assistance.

This legislation complements other essential work by Wisconsin to better protect residents from lead in drinking water. In 2016, the state Department of Natural Resources established a 2-year program with $27.8 million in state revolving loan funds to provide assistance to disadvantaged municipalities to replace LSLs on private property. EDF highlights the work of Wisconsin and eleven other states that have proactive policies to support community LSL replacement efforts.

We applaud the progress in Wisconsin and hope that other states will take similar steps that help communities get the lead out of their water systems.

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