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Duluth seeks funding and public help to replace lead water pipes – Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — To rid the city’s water system of lead pipes, local utility officials have applied for $10 million in funding from the Minnesota Public Facilities Authority, and even if they do receive the requested sum, this will be just enough to start what should be a large and expensive undertaking.

“In a perfect world, we’d get $10 million for each of the next five years,” said Eric Shaffer, chief engineer of Duluth water and gas operations.

But he acknowledged it could be a tall order.

In total, Minnesota has set aside a total of $43 million in annual funding that the authority can use to help cities across the state address issues of lead contamination in their water systems. And the program is due to end in just five years.

Shaffer thinks that $50 million would probably be enough to cover the cost of replacing old lead pipes with safer lines made of modern, less hazardous materials. The truth is, however, that he doesn’t really know.

Although the city has reliable records showing where the lead is in the water infrastructure it owns, this is not the case for the private water lines that provide the final connections from the house to the sidewalk. .

“Privately, our records aren’t that great,” Shaffer acknowledged.

That’s why the city is going to need the help of local residents.

“We are looking to identify every major service line in the city of Duluth. And our goal is to remove them all. So we’re really going to know what’s all over town,” said Cyndi Falconer, Duluth’s senior reduction coordinator.

The end of a section of 5/8 inch lead pipe used as a residential supply line.

Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

So far, however, the city has struggled to hire landlords.

If Duluth can get state support for its ongoing lead reduction efforts, two neighborhoods, Lincoln Park and Gary-New Duluth, will be next to have lines replaced. Still, Falconer said of more than 800 inquiries sent to Gary-New Duluth residents, the city received only about 150 responses.

Shaffer said the city needs to better understand the scope of the work before issuing a request for proposals, preferably before July.

He pointed out that with federal and state funding sources likely to be available in the near term, local residents would be wise to jump on board. Generally, landowners are responsible for lines crossing private land. But if Duluth is successful in obtaining grants, the state grant program would cover replacement costs.

But locals would still need to pay the piper to some extent.

Shaffer explained that the city would receive a loan from the state to cover its costs of replacing public lead lines, which would likely require an increase in utility rates, if the Duluth Public Utilities Commission approves the proposed plan.

Nonetheless, Shaffer argues that the city would come out on top and that residents currently served by lead service lines would certainly benefit.

He said work would begin with a pilot project involving 11 homes on East Eighth Street next week.

Shaffer explained that instead of digging front yards to replace lead water pipes, the city plans to dig holes at the main and shut-off valve, then use a cable system to attempt to remove the lead service line, with a replacement plastic line directly attached behind.

This approach, which is expected to cost around $12,000 per household initially, is admittedly more expensive upfront than the more conventional excavation method, but Shaffer said it’s less disruptive and will lead to a reduction in the need for follow-up care. .

The City of Duluth is looking to replace residential lead water pipes.
Eric Shaffer holds a piece of lead pipe showing corrosion on the outer layer.

Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

If the approach works and contractors can cancel the procedure, Shaffer predicts prices should drop accordingly.

Assuming it is successful, the first project will lead to the installation of another 50 to 60 additional replacement lines on East Eighth Street this summer, with the help of $1.6 million in federal pandemic relief funds. COVID-19 that Duluth shelved with American Rescue. Schemes Act.

Shaffer said one complication is that the maximum length of a pull is likely between 25 and 30 feet. For homes with longer water service lines, an additional hole in the yard may be required.

The city is racing to get a full picture of the number of lead service lines in Gary-New Duluth and lower Lincoln Park so it can draw up specifications and launch a request for proposals, but this summer for work proposed in 2023, should Duluth be successful in securing grant funds.

Other neighborhoods would be dealt with over the next five years or so, until all of the city’s lead lines were replaced.

In the meantime, Falconer said the city has purchased 1,000 pitchers of water filters which it is giving away free to residents with lead service lines. She said more will be ordered as needed.

Children exposed to lead may develop behavioral and/or learning problems. Adults with high lead levels may develop high blood pressure and/or kidney problems.

To learn how to identify a primary service line, visit

duluthmn.gov/public-works-utilities/utilities/water/lead-water-education.

Homeowners can self-report the type of service line they have on the same web page or can schedule a free city inspection. To contact the city’s engineering department, call 218-730-5200.