2018-09-13 / Front Page

MDEQ rule could ‘drastically’ impact city

Expense of replacing lead-based service lines will now fall on city


Above, a graphic from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Lead and Copper Rule change presentation shows the service line system for housing. Currently, a rule change stipulates that all lead service lines will need to be replaced from the water main to the house it supplies, at the city’s expense. In the past, the water service line from the property boundary to the house was the homeowner’s responsibility. Graphic courtesy MDEQ Above, a graphic from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Lead and Copper Rule change presentation shows the service line system for housing. Currently, a rule change stipulates that all lead service lines will need to be replaced from the water main to the house it supplies, at the city’s expense. In the past, the water service line from the property boundary to the house was the homeowner’s responsibility. Graphic courtesy MDEQ MANISTIQUE – A rule change by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality may have a significant impact on the city of Manistique. A section of the rule change, discussed during Monday’s Manistique City Council meeting, will mandate the replacement of all lead-based service lines supplying water to houses.

According to the Michigan DEQ website, in 1974, the U.S. Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act, giving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency responsibility for establishing and enforcing drinking water standards nationwide. The Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act, Public Act 399, was enacted in 1976 and enables the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to maintain direct control over the public drinking water program in the state.

The DEQ website states that, “as part of a larger statewide effort to reduce lead exposure, DEQ recently underwent rule promulgation efforts to update the Lead and Copper Rule provisions of the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act.”

“The purpose of the Lead and Copper Rule is to protect public health by minimizing lead and copper levels in drinking water, primarily by reducing corrosivity,” the site states. “Lead and copper enter drinking water mainly from corrosion of lead and copper containing plumbing materials.”

According to Manistique Water/Wastewater Superintendent Corey Barr, the rule changes are a result of the water crisis in Flint, Mich., which Barr noted was “human error” made by elected and nonelected officials.

“The state of Michigan … (is) passing new rules,” he said. “These new rules are going to drastically affect us financially.”

According to the draft rules “Department of Environmental Quality Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance Division Supplying Water”, if a water supplier, such as the city of Manistique, controls the entire service line, it is responsible for replacing the entire service line that it owns.

“If the supply does not own the entire lead service line, the supply shall notify the owner of the line, or the owner’s authorized agent, that the supply will replace the portion of the service line that it owns and shall offer to replace the owner’s portion of the line at water supply (city’s) expense,” the rules state. “If the building owner does not consent, the supply shall not replace any portion of the service line, unless in conjunction with emergency repair.”

The draft rules stipulate that the city would have to replace all lead service lines and galvanized service lines, if that service line was or is connected to lead piping.

“Beginning the year after the preliminary distribution system materials inventory is complete, service lines … shall be replaced at a rate averaging 5 percent per year, not to exceed 20 years total for replacement of all service lines … unless an alternate schedule in an asset management plan is approved by the department,” the rules state.

Barr explained that from 1920-1940, most water service lines to houses were made with lead. He noted that when Manistique completes water-related projects, they have replaced all lead pipes up to where their right-of-way ends, which is on the side of the sidewalk closest to the street.

“That’s where we can legally spend our money, according to the federal government,” he said.

Barr explained that now, the state of Michigan wants the entire service line replaced.

“If it is lead and we expose it – we’ve always, for 35 years, have had a practice to remove it,” he said. “We have special fittings … and from the water main … to the right-of-way, we’ve always taken all of the lead out and put copper in its place.

Now they’re (the state) saying that that’s not legal,” Barr continued. “You can’t do a partial lead service line replacement. You have to chase it all the way to inside the house – which means we’re crossing the right-of-way line, which means we’re on private property without an (utility) easement … Yet the state’s saying that we have to be there, we have to replace it. So there’s a conflict of law.”

Currently, the city is planning a Combined Sewer Overflow Project for 2019 to help eliminate the combined sewer system, which allows high snowmelt or significant rainfall to cause diluted sewage overflows on the way to the wastewater treatment plant.

The city has completed approximately 65 percent of its CSO with past infrastructure projects, and the upcoming project will likely bring the city to 75 percent completion. The city has been approved for USDA – Rural Development funding, up to $6 million to help correct the CSO. Areas that may be included in the project are located on the east side of town: Oak Street; Range Street; Park Avenue; Washington Avenue; Gero Avenue; Terrace Avenue; Cherry Street; and Steuben Street.

Barr said that because of the proximity of the water and sewer service lines in the trench, the water service line can’t be replaced without damaging the sewer line – so both would need to be replaced. As an example, he noted that if the city replaces 100 service lines in their 2019 project, the cost could be nearly $10,000 per house.

“That money has to come totally out of our pocket,” he said. “The federal loan and grant system will not fund it. So it’s an unfunded mandate that has conflicting laws.”

To include the service line replacements in the 2019 project, Barr explained the engineering firm will need to return to Manistique to complete site surveys in order for the city to request utility easements for each house.

“So right there is another cost,” he said. “This thing just bleeds and bleeds and bleeds more costs.”

Currently, the DEQ rules state that partial lead service line replacements are banned.

Barr pointed out that his recommendation would be to seek out other municipalities and enter into a class action lawsuit – “Because this is unachievable,” he said.

Councilperson Rick Hollister asked if the mandate will affect every municipality in Michigan.

“It does,” said Barr. “It affects everybody.”

Additionally, Barr explained that the city is currently in its required year of completing lead and copper testing.

“We’ve completed that testing, and we have the results,” he said. “Our results … not only are they both under the action limit, they’re both under the new limits that they’re trying to propose.”

Barr added that the city has not exceeded the lead or copper testing in 21 years.

“Here we are doing the right water treatment, we have the right staff, we have the right protocols in place to ensure that the … staff is doing the right work – we’re going to get penalized now because of stuff that happened downstate,” he said.

Hollister asked if the federal government could stop the state from imposing the service line replacement mandate. Barr said he doesn’t expect that to happen.

City Manager Sheila Aldrich pointed out that the mandate it not yet law.

“But they pretty much said, accept it as law, because it’s going to be,” she said.

For those water and sewer replacement projects completed in prior years, the city would be required to return and replace the service line from the sidewalk to each resident’s house, Barr explained.

Aldrich noted it was unknown that if city installs the new service lines, if they would be responsible for them moving forward. Currently, if a service line breaks or freezes, the repair is the responsibility of the homeowner.

Barr said the number one priority at this time is to see if the mandate will affect the upcoming project which is funded by USDA Rural Development.

“If it does not, we will move forward with that project without a hiccup,” he said.

The final rules were filed with the Office of Regulatory Reform June 14. The rules also: reduce the Lead Action Level from 15 parts per billion to 12 ppb in 2025; require a second sample collection at sites served by lead service lines; create a statewide water system advisory council; and require all public water systems to conduct asset inventory.

Currently, two bills – House Bill 6249 and 6248, address the creation of a “Lead Abatement Grant Program” and subsequent “Lead Abatement Fund”. The bills, both introduced in June, would provide funding for replacing mains, connectors or service lines to remove lead from contact with drinking water.

Additionally, House Bill 5898, introduced in April, seeks to amend PA 399 and expand use of the annual fee paid by water suppliers to include funding for infrastructure grants and loans for lead service line replacements.

None of the aforementioned bills have gone past introduction in the Michigan House of Representatives.

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