Midwest mayors explain daunting task of replacing lead water service lines

50 members of Congress sent letter to EPA urging an update to the 2015 formula used to allocate lead removal money.

Updated: September 18, 2022 - 12:00am

Illinois has more lead water-service lines than any other state, but a formula used to allocate federal removal money didn’t take that into account.

Last year, Illinois received just $106 million of the $15 billion earmarked for lead removal in President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill.

A group of 50 members of Congress, including several from Illinois, sent a letter to EPA officials urging them to update the 2015 formula they use to allocate lead removal money. Specifically, they want the $15 billion allocated in relation to how many lead lines in each state.

According to EPA officials, Illinois has the most lead service lines in the country, estimated at over 700,000.

During a Lead Line Removal and Water Equity hearing with several Great Lakes mayors, Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss says without federal money for lead service replacement projects, local water bills will skyrocket.

“An undertaking that we expect to cost over $168 million in 2021 dollars, and without additional outside funding, this would result in an increase of over 70% to their retail water rate,” Biss said.

The Mayor's Commission on Water Equity said they will play a crucial role in determining whether federal investments in water infrastructure via the Infrastructure investment and Jobs Act engender results on the ground, including in disadvantaged communities that they say have struggled to access federal dollars.

“It is our responsibility as leaders of cities, state and federal agencies to ensure these historic investments are distributed equitably,” Zion Mayor Billy McKinney said.

In 2021, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law the Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act, making Illinois the third state in the nation to require full replacement of lead drinking water pipes.

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