A coalition of various organizations has sent a letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The groups want him to increase funding fivefold for lead service line replacements. This comes as more municipalities are finding lead in their drinking water.
The request from the coalition of labor, local government and environmental organizations is to increase funding from $20 million to $100 million. Lead service lines, which connect the water mains beneath city streets to the internal plumbing in residential buildings, are considered the greatest contributor to lead in drinking water. Rob Hayes is clean water associate for Environmental Advocates of New York, who signed onto the letter.
“And so it is incredibly important that New York steps up says, any level of lead in drinking water is unacceptable,” Hayes says. “And so we need to eliminate the source of lead altogether.”
He says $20 million was part of the 2017 Clean Water Infrastructure Act and all the money has been allocated to some 25 municipalities across the state.
“But really, what we’re seeing is that $20 million is just drop in the bucket compared to what municipalities need to really solve this problem,” Hayes says. “There are about 360,000 of these pipes statewide, and that’s probably a conservative estimate. And so the need to replace all of them comes to at least $1 billion. And so Governor Cuomo really needs to step up and put more money into this program so municipalities can keep doing what they do best, which is getting these pipes out of the ground.”
November 30, Newburgh issued a press release about lead in the city’s drinking water in some homes and buildings. The release says that during the city’s third round of lead and copper monitoring for the period of January 1 through December 31 this year, sample results exceeded a so-called action level; that is, samples showed 17.8 micrograms per liter above the action level of 15 micrograms per liter. City officials advised residents that Newburgh is offering Lead Service Line Replacement funding. The city’s water source from the Catskill Aqueduct and Brown’s Pond does not contain lead. Again, Environmental Advocates’ Hayes:
“And so, what we’ve seen in Newburgh is that they recently discovered, through their mandatory testing from the Environmental Protection Agency, that enough homes that they tested violated the EPA standard for lead in drinking water, that they now have to undergo remediation processes, public notification processes,” says Hayes. “And so, it is incredibly important, in order to prevent more situations like Newburgh from occurring in the future, to dig these pipes out of the ground before a public health catastrophe occurs.”
And for cash-strapped cities like Newburgh, Hayes says the Lead Service Line Replacement Program is critical.
“And that’s why the Lead Service Line Replacement program, which was created by the governor and the legislature in 2017, is really a model for the nation in how to replace these pipes,” says Hayes. “The funding provided through this program covers the entire cost of lead service line replacement. So municipalities don’t have to go into any debt, homeowners don’t have to go into any debt, which is incredibly important also when many of these pipes are found in low-income communities and communities of color that can’t afford to pay the $5,000 bill to get rid of this pipe.”
Hayes points to another city, Amsterdam, where in August the public learned that samples of drinking water in homes exceeded lead limits put in place by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Wendy Low is part of the New York state leadership team for Mothers Out Front. She says lead pipes should have been replaced a long time ago.
“Mothers Out Front is working for the future of children around climate change, but we are supportive of this because that’s what we’re about. We’re about our children’s future. And every child that is poisoned is a family tragedy and tragedy for our society,” Low says. “So increasing the funding for lead service line replacement at this time will help make replacing all the lead lines completely a reality and not put it off till tomorrow.”
Through the grants provided by the Lead Service Line Replacement Program, the entire lead service line is dug out of the ground and a safer pipe material is used as a replacement. New York has one of the oldest housing stocks in the nation, and it is known that homes built before 1986 have a higher chance of having lead service lines.