By Mrinal Gokhale
Lead pipes in Milwaukee, especially in the inner city have been problematic for almost 20 years. Ald. Jim Bohl, along with Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton drafted legislation to eliminate lead pipes in households, with homeowners or landlords a portion of the cost.
After much debate, this legislation was voted in favor by the Common Council on Tuesday, Dec. 13.
Specifically, this legislation states that Milwaukee Water Works will help replace 300 lead laterals in Milwaukee over a year, with private property owners paying a portion of the cost.
Ald. Russel Stamper, Ald. Khalif Rainey, Ald. Milele Coggs, Mayor Tom Barrett and other local officials held a meeting at North Division High School on the morning of Dec. 10 to gain insight from the public.
City of Milwaukee Budget Director Mark Nicolini explained that a private property owner would pay one third or maximum of $1,600, whichever is lesser to replace a lead lateral. The city would cover two thirds of the cost.
On the public utility side, Milwaukee Water Works would cover the full cost.
“Under this proposal, a special assessment would be levied with private property owners. The maximum $1,600 could be paid over 10 years,” Nicolini said.
“Whenever there is a leak in either private or publicly owned service lines, both need replacement.”
Carrie Lewis, Superintendent at Milwaukee Water Works explained that although a water main doesn’t contain lead, the lateral can, which is what the legislation addresses.
“In Milwaukee, we have about 70,000 lead service lines,” said Carrie Lewis, Superintendent at Milwaukee Water Works.
“A water main is made of cast iron. The service part which connects the main to the house can be made of lead or copper, lead or galvanized steel.”
Ald. Stamper said this program would allow for expansion of minority and small business owners to train more plumbers who can help replace lead laterals.
Some attendees at this meeting supported this legislation while others were skeptical. For example, Robert Miranda of Fresh Water For Life Action Coalition (FLAC) asked “What proof do you have that landlords and property owners own lead lateral pipes?”
Superintendent Lewis stated that the Water Works Rules and Regulations required lead pipes to be used back in 1872 because there were few other options.
“Wood was the only lead alternative available to lead back then,” Lewis said. Another local contractor explained just how dangerous it was to drink lead water.
He stated that exposure to lead water can slowly damage the upper hemisphere of the brain, which is responsible for logical reasoning. In turn, people with lead poisoning are more likely to operate on the lower part of brain which is driven by emotion. “Acting from the emotional part of the brain makes people more violent because the upper, higher function of the brain is blocked,” he said.
Alderwoman Coggs, who stated she had previously not supported the legislation, encouraged attendees to express their concerns at the Common Council meeting.
“Let us know if there are ways we can improve this. We want to hear from you before we cast our votes.”