Water policy continues to be an important issue in Wisconsin, ranging from safe drinking water concerns to management of agricultural run-off and storm water run-off to use of water in manufacturing and agriculture. This week’s Focus on Water looks at the problem of lead in drinking water. In Wisconsin, tens of thousands of homes and many schools are served by aging lead water supply lines. These lead pipes pose a threat to human health when they begin to fail. The estimated cost of replacing these lines can be approximately $5,000 per home or more and much of this failing infrastructure is located in the poorest communities in the state, making the challenge of fixing the problem even more difficult. It is also possible that other solutions, short of pipe replacement, may exist or be developed that could be deployed at a lesser cost.
Senator Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) is currently circulating legislation deemed the “Leading on Lead Act,” to facilitate the replacement of lead service lines. Under Sen. Cowles’s proposal, a municipal public water utility would be authorized to provide financial assistance to homeowners to replace lead service lines into the home. This financial assistance could be in the form of a low- or no-interest loan. The program would be voluntary and would apply only if the municipality adopts an ordinance authorizing the financial assistance program and has either already installed a lead-free water main or will do so at the same time as the water supply laterals. We expect this bill to be introduced into the Legislature within the next week. We also expect alternative approaches to solving this problem to be introduced over the coming months.