Clean Water Plan and Neighborhood Conservation Fund2018-11-01T17:41:29+00:00

“Chicago faces a serious issue with lead in the water”

Chicago is facing a serious water crisis which because of lead contaminants in the City’s water. The problem stems from the fact that the City has far more lead services lines than any other City and the aging lines combined with contaminants coming lose during road road construction and main water line replacement, are increasing the chances of lead exposure. The City’s policy has been to replace the main lines and leave it to the property owner to replace connecting lines. This dooms the poorest neighborhood and working families and the poor to lead exposure. It also undermines the ability of struggling and depressed neighborhoods to attract and retain families and businesses.
.
It is my intent to solve the problem by creating a Neighborhood Conservation Fund, that will secure and leverage accessible Federal, State and local revenues and incentives to help finance the replacement of the lead service lines. It will be a revolving fund that will be replenished allowing neighborhood homeowners and small businesses to have long term access to property improvement capital. The initiative will also help create a neighborhood based water purification industry that will contribute to local employment opportunities.
.
.

Background

Cities across the nation are overhauling their aging water systems by digging up lead water pipes connecting homes to street mains. Many cities are offering pipe replacements in municipal construction projects by using local funds, offering homeowners payment plans or taking advantage of low-interest loans funded jointly by federal and state lawmakers.
.
The Emanuel administration has borrowed $412 million from a federal-state loan fund during the past six years for water-related projects but none is for lead pipes replacement. Most of the money is being used to replace 440 miles of aging water mains in order to ensure reliable modern water service. This work however, prevents leaks but increases the chances Chicagoans are exposed to lead in their drinking water. A 2013 study of Chicago homes by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that when service lines are disturbed by street work, high levels of lead can flow out of household taps for weeks or months afterward.
.
When the city crews and contractors dig up a Chicago street to replace a water main, they connect new cast iron pipes to existing lead service lines between the roadway and individual houses. The projects ensure “residents have a reliable water supply. However, the city does not replace nor provide assistance to the property owner to replace lead service lines.
.
According to the EPA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there is no safe level of exposure to lead. Even tiny amounts can permanently damage the brains of young children, leading to learning disabilities and violent behavior later in life.
.
Many cities including Chicago, add corrosion-fighting chemicals to the water supply that form a protective coating inside lead pipes, helping prevent the metal from leaching out. But the coating often breaks off when lead pipes are disturbed, according to studies.
.
After the Flint crisis, the EPA sent a series of letters to state regulators advising them to do more to warn the public about potential health risks from lead pipes and encouraging them to find ways to begin addressing the problem that go beyond the minimum requirements.
.
Though Chicago and other cities consider service lines to be private property rather than part of the municipal water system, no law or regulation prevents the use of federal money to replace them. The EPA’s position is that lead pipes can contaminate water at any point, including on its way into a private home. They consider using EPA funds to replace such pipes Allowing a public water system to use its funds to consistent with the overall health protections of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
.
.

Examples of other cities taking action

  • Milwaukee has identified 70,000 properties where lead pipes remain underground. The City took the position that anyone living in a home built before 1951 should install water filters capable of removing lead. The city borrowing $2.6 million from the federal-state loan fund to replace lead pipes, starting with 385 day care centers.
  • Madison, Wis., already has removed nearly all of its lead service lines, in part by offering to pay up to $1,000 of the replacement cost.
  • Lansing, Mich., charges ratepayers for its replacement program and has developed cheaper and more efficient methods to complete the work.
  • Philadelphia and St. Paul offer no-interest payment plans. In Boston, residents can consult an online map of lead service lines, and the city offers its own cash incentives.
.
.
Replacing service lines in Chicago is a great challenge because almost 80 percent of homes and small apartment buildings are hooked up to the municipal water supply with lead pipes. There is an estimated 385,000 lead service lines remain in Chicago.
.
Congress created the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund in 1996 to improve and maintain public water systems. The fund requires states to contribute an amount equal to 20 percent of what each gets annually from the federal program.
.
In 2016 Illinois approved $430 million in federal-state loans for drinking water projects. Of that amount, $148 million is designated for Chicago, most of it for the water main repairs. The city will pay back the 20-year loans using money from an increase in water rates approved shortly after Emanuel took office. The separate tax on water and sewer bills, approved by the City Council last year at Emanuel’s request, helps fund city pensions not construction projects.
.
One reason why Chicago and other cities haven’t been required to replace service lines is there is no federal limit on the amount of lead in tap water at individual homes, although EPA action to compel cities to begin addressing this issue may be coming. Until then a water utility can be ordered to make repairs only if it repeatedly exceeds a systemwide benchmark intended to gauge the effectiveness of anti-corrosion treatment.
.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Chicago officials consider corrosion control in the city effective, basing their assurances of safety on 50 federally mandated lead tests conducted every three years. The Tribune reported in February of 2016 that “few of the tests were carried out on streets where a water main has been replaced, the vast majority of the homes tested were owned by people who work for or retired from the City Water Department and none of the tests was conducted in areas of the city where childhood lead poisoning remains a problem”.
.
The Emanuel administration officials in 2016 said that they would conduct their own study on water safety claiming according to the Tribune, that “it is misleading at best to say there is federal research concluding that construction causes high lead levels in water.” Volunteers were to have been enlisted to have their water tested before and after streets are dug up, according to a city news release. We do not know if the study has been made public. City
.
The city currently advises residents affected by water main replacements to flush their taps for a few minutes any time water hasn’t been used for several hours. Flyers have not included references to lead, and suggested that homeowners flush taps just once after the water main work was complete. The City offers free water testing and is suppose to send residents test kits they can mail to a laboratory for analysis. Arrival of such kits are never certain and rarely timely.
.
The lead contamination in Flint elevated interest in lead in drinking water as a public health problem. The City’s lack of creative problem on is another example the administrations total lack of vision, absence of urgency and clear insensitivity to action or inaction that impacts working families and the poor. This issue however cuts across racial and socio-economic lines.  No mom wants to see a child have lead poisoning.
.
Besides the costs to the health and well being the presence of lead in the water system can have a direct impact on property values and the preponderance of lead poor communities can further undermine the quality of life in those communities providing a major disincentive for people to come to the community or remain.
.
.

My solution:

The only effective solution is for Chicago and other cities to begin the long, costly work of replacing lead service lines. Led is a horrible neurotoxin. The amount that should be in your body is zero, and it is very clear what needs to happen for cities to do the right thing. The poorest communities with the most serious challenges and the fewer resources are being hit the hardest by the City not addressing this issue. This issue must be addressed.
.
The objective is simple. Make the necessary investments to ensure that there is no lead or other contaminants in the water. Drawing attention to this issue does not create a panic. You have to have confidence that you can educate people and they will not over react. Critical is that you be honest and transparent. There are precautions and interim measures that can be taken that won’t panic the public while a long term plan to address address the problem once and for all is developed and implemented.
.
Failure to address this issue will not only result in greater neurological damage in most communities especially our poorest communities, but the public loss of confidence in the City water will impact our property values and our ability to attract and retain residents and businesses.
.

Steps:

  • Public education campaign on the risks of lead in the drinking water and what steps can be taken to properly use water. (Something as simple running the dishwasher or running the shower before you start consuming water.
  • Immediate free testing services to anyone who requests and embark on a plan to test all properties that are connected to the lead service lines.
  • Pre-qualify venders who have the proven water filtration systems that will remove lead from Chicago water.
  • Developmental implement an aggressive program for installing lead free pipes in new and rebuilt residences/ buildings and replacement pipes in existing buildings.
.

Replacement and remediation priorities:

  • Provide access to Water Department vetted affordable and subsidized water filtration systems.
  • Replace lead pipes connecting from all day care centers and schools as well as lead paint.
  • Replace lead pipes connecting to public places like parks.
  • Replace lead pipes connecting to schools as well as building lead remediation.
  • Replace lead pipes connecting to water mains undergoing

.

.

.

The Neighborhood Conservation Fund

It is my intent to begin addressing the problem by creating the Neighborhood Conservation Fund. The fund will secure and leverage accessible Federal, State and local revenues and incentives to help finance the replacement of the lead service lines. And lead abatement from property. It will be a revolving fund that will be replenished allowing neighborhood homeowners and small businesses to have long term access to property improvement capital. The initiative will also help create a neighborhood based water purification industry that will contribute to local employment opportunities.

Specific funding opportunities:

  • End the State’s Corporate Personal Property Replacement Tax diversion which would restore approximately $100 million in previously constitutionally dedicated annual revenues to Chicago, a portion of which could be used to finance NCF lead abatement projects.
  • Dedicate an annual percentage of current and future TIF surpluses and Developer Fees to the NCF to be used to extend loans.
  • Pursue the creation of State Homeowners Property Tax Credit Program to partially offset the costs to a homeowners or a small business from lead pipe replacements and lead removal from property.
  • Creation of a local property tax abatement program to partially offset the cost of lead pipe replacements and lead removal from property.
  • Accessing the Federal and State Loan Program to pay for lead pipe replacement. The first community in Illinois to secure funding for lead pipe replacements through the federal-state loan fund is Galesburg. The $4 million borrowed by Galesburg will replace about half of the 10,000 lead pipes remaining in the city.

Economic Impact:

There is a significant economic upside from the increased property values and the additional property tax income that would be generated a program resulting in significant home and small business property improvements.
Additional economic benefit would be gained through the economic activity generated from potentially tens of thousands of property improvements annually and the expansion of the Water Filtration and Maintenance Industry.
***
Sources:

Don’t have time to volunteer, then chip in! Every little bit helps.

DONATE NOW!