Initiative Prompted by then-Senator Virg Bernero More Than A Decade Ago Brings Lansing Lead-free Pipes
The Lansing Board of Water & Light (BWL) has replaced its last active lead service line, joining Madison, Wisconsin as the only two water utilities in the nation that have removed all lead service lines. The project began in 2004 and removed 12,150 active lead service lines at a cost of $44.5 million.
“More than a decade before the Flint water crisis, I recognized the potential dangers associated with lead in drinking water, particularly for infants and pregnant women, and concluded that we should take a proactive approach to getting the lead out of Lansing,” said Mayor Virg Bernero. “I am incredibly proud of Dick Peffley and his expert team at BWL for bringing this vital project across the finish line. Promise made, promise kept.”
“The BWL has completely eliminated all active lead service lines from BWL water service,” said Dick Peffley, BWL General Manager. “This is a tremendous accomplishment that shows communities across Michigan and the nation that replacing lead service lines can be successful with planning, operational expertise and the support of the community and customers.”
When the Flint water crisis put the spotlight on BWL’s lead service line replacement project earlier this year, the BWL was near completion of the project that began in 2004. At that time, the BWL Board of Commissioners accepted a recommendation to replace all lead service lines which was made by a community task force headed by then-State Senator Virg Bernero, who currently serves as mayor of Lansing.
Bernero’s Safe Drinking Water Task Force examined testing protocols for lead in drinking water and worked closely with Dr. Marc Edwards, the internationally-recognized Virginia Tech professor who helped uncover the Flint water crisis, in making the case for the removal of all lead water distribution pipes in Lansing. Dr. Edwards has called the BWL’s approach to lead pipe removal a “model for the nation.”
When the Flint water crisis erupted, Mayor Bernero asked the BWL to help train Flint contractor crews on its trenchless method of replacing lead service lines and to provide technical support to the City of Flint as it began replacing lead service lines. In addition, the BWL hosted 20 water utilities from across the country, who visited Lansing this year to learn about BWL’s lead service line replacement project.
The water distributed from the BWL’s two water conditioning plants meets or exceeds all measures of drinking water quality under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, the State of Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act (PA 399) and other conditions defined by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
BWL water has no detectable lead when it leaves its two water conditioning plants and there are no lead mains in its 800 mile distribution system. Although the BWL has removed all active lead service lines serving its 55,000 residential and commercial water customers, the BWL will continue to use a phosphate anti-corrosion compound to coat water pipes and prevent leaching of lead and copper into drinking water where lead may still be present in home plumbing fixtures, in older copper plumbing with lead solder and some older brass fixtures that contain lead. The BWL’s corrosion control additive is designed to minimize lead exposure from the plumbing inside a home or other buildings.
Unlike many water systems that make use of surface waters such as lakes and rivers, the sole source of the BWL’s drinking water is the Saginaw Aquifer, located hundreds of feet below the City of Lansing. The Saginaw Aquifer is a safe and reliable source of drinking water that meets all drinking water standards. The BWL’s drinking water is pumped from 125 wells that reach about 400 feet below ground. Water from BWL wells is transported through large transmission mains to one of two water conditioning plants. The plants soften the water by removing about 80 percent of the hardness. The softened water is then chlorinated, fluoridated, treated with a corrosion control agent, filtered and stored in reservoirs for distribution to BWL customers. Lansing is one of the largest communities in the country to rely exclusively on groundwater to meet its drinking water requirements.