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Incentive Program Launched for Small Municipalities to Replace Their Lead Pipes

The Environmental Policy Innovation Center (EPIC) has announced the launch of a Lead-Free Water Challenge to help incentivize small municipalities to remove and replace their lead service lines. EPIC will select five municipalities or public water systems who will receive technical assistance, connections to resources and funders, policy guidance, and information-sharing through peer networks with the goal of removing all lead pipes.

EPIC encourages interested municipalities and small water systems to apply on the Lead-Free Water Challenge webpage, where they can find additional information on the program. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis through June 15, 2021.

Approximately 11,000 communities across the country have lead service lines, which were largely installed a century ago even as the threat of lead in drinking water became evident. While some larger cities have successful programs to replace lead service lines, many small and under-resourced municipalities and water systems have not had the capacity to address this threat.

President Biden announced an intent to remove 100 percent of the estimated 6 to 10 million lead service lines across the country, but this will require more than just funding. Small municipalities and water systems face steep challenges such as a lack of specialized personnel, staff capacity, and/or financing expertise to figure out how to get started, where their pipes are, how to secure funding, and how to initiate a replacement program that is equitable for all residents.

EPIC has teamed up with Blue Conduit and other partners to deliver much-needed technical assistance to the selected municipalities. EPIC’s Lead-Free Water Challenge is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Spring Point Partners.

Maureen Cunningham, Deputy Director of Water at EPIC, said, “Toxic lead should not be in anyone’s drinking water, but, fortunately, this problem has a relatively straightforward solution: replace all lead pipes. By launching programs in small and under-resourced communities in partnership with other experts, we hope to build momentum to make lead in drinking water a thing of the past. With the Biden-Harris administration’s goal of becoming 100 percent lead-free backed by federal funding, there has perhaps never been a better moment to tackle this public health crisis and move one step closer to ensuring clean and safe drinking water for all.”

Ian Robinson, Managing Director at BlueConduit said, "An actionable inventory is a key step to replacing lead service lines. In many of the cities we’ve worked since 2016, water service line materials records are often missing, inaccurate, or outdated. The uncertainty created by these data gaps can make it very difficult to plan efficient replacements. We were founded with the mission of using data science to improve public health. We are excited to support communities in this program to assist them in getting the lead out of the ground as quickly and efficiently as possible."

Howard Crofoot, Public Works Director for the City of Platteville, Wisconsin, said, “The City of Platteville has worked hard to identify and remove our lead pipes. Collaboration and teamwork have been a big part of our success, and I hope that other communities around the country are able to do the same - until we replace all lead pipes in Wisconsin and the rest of the country.”

Gregg Giasson, P.E., Deputy General Manager/Executive Engineer of Providence Water, said, “Providence Water has been proud to team with the Town of North Providence on their ongoing "Remove the Whole Lead Pipe Program." This initiative aligns with Providence Water's efforts to eliminate lead at our customers’ taps. Providence Water is open to talking to municipalities who are just starting their own lead service line replacement programs because we know how important this issue is.”

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About Environmental Policy Innovation Center (EPIC): The Environmental Policy Innovation Center (EPIC) is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC whose mission is to build policies that deliver spectacular improvements in the speed and scale of conservation and environmental progress. In our water work, we focus on innovative policies that improve health, access, and affordability; eliminate disparities across water systems; and build public trust in water supplies. EPIC is a sponsored project of Sand County Foundation.

About Blue Conduit: BlueConduit is a water analytics company that uses cutting-edge, predictive machine learning methods to locate lead service lines, empowering local officials with the information to efficiently remove those pipes. Our models enable utilities to focus their resources on digging where the lead is and accelerating the removal of this significant health concern and save millions of dollars in avoided digs. BlueConduit has inventoried more than 500,000 service lines across more than 50 cities in the United States and Canada. Those service lines provide water to more than 1,000,000 residents.