(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
By Justin Ladner
President Joe Biden’s and Vice President Kamala Harris’ recent trip to Philadelphia to announce $160 million in funding to help upgrade the city’s water facilities, part of the administration’s efforts to replace all lead service lines in America in the next decade, is welcome news.
Conversations about improving America’s infrastructure often focus on roads and bridges. But modernizing our aging water infrastructure is just as vital. Safe, clean, affordable, and reliable drinking water nourishes our families and keeps life flowing to our communities.
The average age of water and sewer pipes in the U.S. is nearly 50 years old. Furthermore, many homes across Pennsylvania were built in the last century and use of lead pipes in public water systems was not banned until 1986.
With the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law providing billions of dollars to remove lead service lines and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requiring water systems to develop and share public maps of water service lines with lead and copper by October 2024, we have an opportunity to make progress.
We can’t “kick the can” down the road and leave this problem for the next generation. Pennsylvania must capitalize on the attention, funding, and momentum to remove the risk of lead service lines. That’s why I am “piping up” and encourage others to join me.
I’m proud that our company, Pennsylvania American Water, is compliant with lead action levels in water due to our treatment controls.
In fact, American Water is compliant in all of its systems across our national footprint. However, identifying and ultimately removing lead lines from service is necessary and the right thing to do for the health, safety and peace of mind for our 2.4 million customers across Pennsylvania.
While the federal government’s investment into Philadelphia is welcome news, significant investments are also needed to identify and eliminate lead water lines for all our customers in Pennsylvania. As you might imagine, determining what material every customer’s service line is made of – including the lines owned by customers and not just by us – is a massive undertaking.
That is why we recently launched our statewide service line material inventory project. We need customers whose service line material is unknown to us to “pipe up” and tell us what their water service lines are made of. We will use this information to develop and publish a public-facing online map of service line material types and locations with the ultimate goal of removing lead lines from service. New Jersey American Water is conducting similar outreach, and these efforts will ultimately make all of our communities stronger.
The Pennsylvania General Assembly’s strong bipartisan leadership in passing Act 120 of 2018 removed the financial burden for customers of Public Utility Commission-regulated water utilities to replace their lead service lines. Prior to the law’s passage, replacing customer-side service lines was cost prohibitive and the sole responsibility of the homeowner; whereas today, our company can systematically replace customer-owned lead service lines in a reasonable, cost-effective way.
Already, Pennsylvania American Water has replaced more than 250 lead service lines in our service territory and plans to invest approximately $15 million in 2023 to replace even more.
Across the state, including communities we do not serve, lead service lines still affect an estimated 10 million Pennsylvania families.
We look forward to working with our highly-skilled workforce, represented by nine labor unions across the state, and the state of Pennsylvania as it participates in the EPA’s new Lead Service Line Replacement Accelerators initiative, to modernize our water infrastructure so that Pennsylvania American Water can continue delivering clean drinking water to the communities we serve.
Biden said, “every American deserves to be able to turn on their water tap or faucet and be able to drink clean water.” I agree.
That’s why I encourage customers to please consider piping up by completing our online service line material survey to participate in the inventory process.
Justin Ladner is the president of Pennsylvania American Water, a subsidiary of American Water, is the largest PUC-regulated water utility in the state, providing high-quality and reliable water and wastewater services to approximately 2.4 million people. He joined American Water in November 2018 as director of National Regulatory Affairs.
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