The water situation in Flint, MI right now is very sad. Brown water and elevated lead are daily in the news. The headlines have sparked a national discussion and interest in how our City handled the lead issue. Madison is unique among water utilities in that our City made a commitment to full lead service line (LSL) replacements nearly two decades ago.
I asked Madison Water Utility Water Quality Manager Joe Grande to provide an update of Madison water and steps that have been taken to assure its quality and he provided the information below.
The federal Lead and Copper Rule requires testing for lead at higher risk consumer taps to determine what is called the 90th percentile level. This level is determined by ordering one hundred results from lowest to highest and identifying the 90th one. If above 15 µg/L, the utility has exceeded the action level and must reduce corrosion. Typically, a utility adds a chemical to slow leaching from lead pipes.
Before our lead service replacement program was conceived, our 90th percentile lead result was 16 µg/L. However, it was not uncommon to find results of 40, 50, even greater than 100 µg/L at some homes. Action was needed but tests showed limited benefit from adding corrosion control chemicals. Some even increased lead levels. The only suitable one would have added phosphorus to our water supply. After much public debate and meetings with state regulators, our utility opted for full LSL replacement rather than adding chemicals.
All utility-owned lead services have been replaced and customers were reimbursed for replacing just under 6200 lead services. Reimbursements totaled $3.8 million.
The utility continues to monitor for lead at the customer tap. Each time (twice in 2011 and once in 2014) the 90th percentile level has been around 3 µg/L. Lead testing will occur again next year and then every three years after that.
The Flint, MI water crisis is a tragedy; however, it also highlights the importance of safe drinking water that is resonating across the country right now. The utility will continue to do it parts to keep the water flowing and safe.
Click on the link below to watch a video of Joe's update on Wisconsin Public Television!