Eau Claire City Hall

Eau Claire residents with lead service lines as part of their home’s drinking water system could receive help paying for new lines in the form of a state Environmental Improvement Fund grant. 

But how much money the city will receive remains uncertain because of the anticipated popularity of the grant program, city utilities manager Jeffrey Pippenger said.

Eau Claire is eligible for $500,000 in funding to replace the 1,266 lead service lines in the city, Pippenger said. 

“But that may not be what we get due to a large number of communities that are applying for this funding,” he said.

 The state Department of Natural Resources is allocating $11.8 million statewide via Environmental Improvement Fund money for the lead line replacement program. The Eau Claire City Council is expected to approve the city applying for that funding at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Money the city does receive via the program would be used to help homeowners offset some of the costs to replace the private section of service lines made of lead pipe with new, non-lead material, Pippenger said.

Lead service lines make up a relatively small percentage of Eau Claire’s drinking water service lines, Pippenger said. The 1,266 lead lines make up 4.7 percent of the more than 27,000 service lines in the city’s drinking water distribution system. The lines containing lead were installed in the 1930s or earlier.

Wisconsin has at least 176,000 lead service lines, including about 70,000 in Milwaukee, according to an Environmental Protection Agency study. Replacement costs in Milwaukee alone are estimated at $500 million.

The lines eligible for replacement with DNR money are those from a homeowner’s property line just behind sidewalks to the meter in a home, otherwise known as the private side of the water service. The public side is from the water main connection (usually in the street) to the curb.

Lead in drinking water garnered national attention last year when high lead levels and health problems were discovered in Flint, Mich. Exposure by humans to lead has been shown to cause permanent brain and nervous system damage.

To ensure that Eau Claire’s water doesn’t have elevated lead levels from the dangerous heavy metal leaching into the water from lead pipes and pipes soldered with lead, Eau Claire treats its water with a corrosion inhibitor called calcium hydroxide, or hydrated lime.

The anti-corrosion treatment is intended to stop the toxic lead from being absorbed into the water supply, Pippenger said.

“Our past sampling and testing shows we do not have lead leaching out of service lines in Eau Claire, but when at all possible it is a good idea to remove the lead from our system,” Pippenger said.

Shane Sanderson, environmental health director with the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, said city water treatment methods help ensure lead-free water. The DNR grant marks “an excellent opportunity for the community to replace those remaining (lead) lines,” he said.

Eau Claire water utility workers conduct tests on the water supply about 20,000 times a year, or more than 50 times daily, to ensure its safety before they pump an average of 9 million gallons a day through the 379 miles of pipes that serve city residents, Pippenger said.

They test for chlorine, manganese, fluoride and pH levels in a simple lab next to giant rapid sand filter basins that remove manganese, a mineral that is prevalent in the groundwater extracted from the 15 wells in the city’s 400-acre well field next to Riverview Park.

Contact: 715-830-5911, julian.emerson@ecpc.com