Clean Water PVD

Why are there still lead pipes in Providence, RI?

Cost. The budget approval process for Providence's main water utility, Providence Water, involves three governing bodies: Providence Water itself, the Public Utilities Commission, and the city council. Increasing water rates is the easiest way to fund total lead line replacement, but for that to happen, all three bodies must all agree to do so.

Implementation. Hiring contractors to replace public lead lines is difficult due to shortage of labor available to execute such a large-scale infrastructure project.

Community Buy-In. Total lead line replacement will also require homeowners and landlords to replace their own lead pipes, which can be politically unpopular and difficult to mandate.

Providence Water introduced a zero-interest loan program in May 2018 which allowed homeowners to pay no interest for up to 3 years on a loan of about $3,000, which covers the cost of replacing the home-side of the line. During this first iteration of the program, 348 residents opted into the program, and 291 home-side line were replaced. In May 2020, Providence received a $3 million loan from the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank to fund a revised version of the program in which Providence offers residents a 10 year zero-interest loan that does not exceed $4,500. The City of Providence will finance completely the replacement of the city-side portion of the lead lines for residents who partake in the program.

Madison, WI

  • EPA renewed its federal lead limit in 1991, lead levels within water at Madison were considered to be over the new limit of 15ppb.
  • A city ordinance mandated private side replacements, and residents were offered fee coverage up to $1000 from city government
  • Collaboration between private and public contractors ensured maximum efficiency when scheduling construction to replace both private and public lead lines
  • Two primary sources of funding for public replacements: The city council approved placing half the cost of customer lead service lines on sewer rates, which were not regulated by the PSC. Revenue generated by renting space on top of water towers to cell phone companies for their antennas.
  • Water Utility Quality Manager Joe Grande says, “We are light years ahead of other utilities that have decided to do the corrosion control chemicals, which they’ll do forever until they do replace the lead services.” Lead in drinking water is no longer a concern to Grande, his utility, or the residents of Madison.

Pittsburgh, PA

  • In 2014, an unauthorized change of anti-corrosion chemicals led to a class-action lawsuit by residents.
  • Areas with children, pregnant women, high lead service line (LSL) density, and lower income are prioritized.
  • For residents, almost all costs are covered, and this is possible due to support from PENNVEST low-interest loans and grants, as well as a 19% rate increase.
  • To preserve cost and efficiency, the program will be integrated with water main repair.
  • The lead help desk program conducts lead outreach and obtains right-of-entry signatures, which authorize replacement of private-side service lines.

North Providence, RI

  • Since 2017, North Providence has picked a new neighborhood block to replace each year, based on certain criteria, including income levels and prevalence of lead pipes.
  • For the contractors to complete the private-side work, the town requires eligible households to complete a right of entry contract, along with the application to enroll in the program.
  • As of 2019, the town has successfully been able to replace 225 lines and has about 475 remaining.

Newark, NJ

  • Lead Service Line Replacement Program implemented in 2019 after routine testing revealed lead levels exceeding the federal limit of 15ppb.
  • First iteration of the program was optional and the cost of replacement was split between the city and homeowner
  • Newest version of the program makes replacement of lead lines mandatory, but the replacement is paid for entirely by the city—the homeowner pays nothing
  • As of September 2020: 15,000 of the 18,000 lead lines have been replaced; the city is committed to replacing them all within the coming months
  • The program is financed by a $120 million AAA obtained by Newark
There are a number of potential solutions to improving the lead pipe situation in Providence. First, the Public Utilities Commission should work with the Water Utility to prioritize lead pipe replacements. These entities should word with legislative bodies to allow for public dollars to be used for private replacements in order to fully eliminate lead lines. Additionally, local government can ensure the whole lead line is eliminated by passing a mandate requiring all private residents to replace their lead pipes. PW has diligently worked to apply for, and receive, federal grants that will also fund these initiatives, and should continue to seek federal funding for lead line replacements. Individual residents can lobby for this prioritization by contacting their city council representatives or the PUC directly.

Providence Water Customer Service
Phone: (401)-521-5070

Councilman Michael J. Correia,
Chairperson of the Public Works Committee, Providence City Council
Phone: (401)-521-7477

Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris,
Chairperson of the Urban Redevelopment, Renewal, and Planning Committee, Providence City Council
Phone: (401)-521-7477

Rhode Island Department of Health, Public Water
Phone: 401-222-5960

Childhood Lead Action Project
Phone: (401) 785-1310