MILWAUKEE — On Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced a plan to replace every lead water pipe across the country. The need for that infrastructure update was echoed by Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative's Mayors Commission on Water Equity.
The commission is calling on Congress to make various investments when it comes to upgrading water infrastructure, including:
$58 billion to create a cross-agency “Lead Safe Communities” fund, with $46 billion to replace lead pipes and $12 billion to address other sources of lead. To affordably address lead service lines on both public and private property, this fund will support state programs to identify and replace lead plumbing, fixtures, and paint in homes and schools, and augment funding for interim corrosion control treatment measures. This fund should include funding directly to low-income homeowners to replace privately-owned lead service lines and in-home lead sources, as well as to utilities through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to replace privately-owned lead service lines where consistent with state law. Funding should be accessible to small and mid-size communities with fewer resources, and Congress should consider waiving local match requirements as applicable.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, one of the commission members, also highlighted the importance of creating jobs while updating infrastructure.
"We want to build a labor pipeline to rebuild our waterlines," Mayor Barrett said. "It should be targeted at areas with high unemployment, large low-income areas, rural communities and large communities of color underrepresented in the water workforce today."
Richard Kumbier of Milwaukee says he's cautiously optimistic after hearing President Biden's speech on Wednesday.
"It was encouraging to hear that the president is including that with his program, hopefully. But what is it? 70,000 laterals in the city and it's going to be a real problem," Kumbier said.
A lateral is what connects a house underground to city water. The city estimates 70,000 laterals are lead, Kumbier's included.
And according to 2020 health department data, about 9% of children in Milwaukee have high levels of lead in their blood.
"We have replaced all the lead that was in the house... only the lateral is left but we're looking at a 10 or 11 thousand dollar job to get that replaced and we can't afford it," Kumbier said.
He and his wife have lived in their house for 43 years, and have been filtering their water all those years.
"We use only filtered water with grandson when he's over. He's five years old at this point. So yes, it's a great concern."