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Detroit plans to replace 5,000 lead water pipes this year

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

Detroit is planning to replace 5,000 lead lines by the end of the year.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has $100 million that they’re hoping will put a dent in replacing the city’s over 80,000 lead pipes.

Detroit water officials say the city's water is safe to drink, but lead pipes are a potential risk.

Lead service lines are what carry treated water from the public water main to the house.

The Michigan Lead & Copper Rule, the most stringent in America, as of 2018 requires all lead service lines to be replaced over the next 20 years, according to a press release from the water department. Detroit houses built before 1945 likely have a lead service line unless the pipe was replaced in recent years.

This program is free for homeowners. The cost of residential lead service line replacement, which requires excavation at the curbstop valve and uses the boring method to install the new line to the home, is about $8,000-10,000 per house due to inflation, according to the press release.

The water department is prioritizing low-income neighborhoods with a lot of houses built before 1945 and high numbers of children and seniors.

"I can tell you not only does our water taste good, but it is first class water. We're not here today because there's a problem," said Detroit Water and Sewerage Director Gary Brown. "You've seen problems in New Jersey or problems in Benton Harbor where EPA has had to helicopter in and fix the problem. We don't have a problem with the water right now."

Brown says annual testing shows Detroit’s drinking water is well within state and federal safety guidelines, but this funding will allow the city to meet the state’s deadline of replacing all lead pipes by 2038.

The $100 million in funding comes from American Rescue Plan Act funds as well as Michigan Drink Water State Revolving Funds, DWSD funds and a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

"The lead service lines in this country are in the older cities. They tend to be the lower income cities," Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said. "And so when it comes time to replace them, the people who need the most help have the least ability to bear the cost. And you've seen way too many cities defer their obligation until it was too late."

Briana Rice is Michigan Public's criminal justice reporter. She's focused on what Detroiters need to feel safe and whether they're getting it.