New state water regs require inspecting lines for lead fixtures

HOUGHTON — Houghton and other municipalities across the state will be inspecting — and possibly replacing — service lines due to new Department of Environmental Quality rule changes enacted as a response to the Flint water crisis.

City manager Eric Waara said the Department of Public Works is surveying service lines to determine lead content.

“We don’t have any lead in our service lines that we know of,” he said. “We’re going to try to boil that list down to, ‘OK, we know exactly what we have here. We have to investigate over there.'”

The state also informed the city that when replacing a water line, if it finds a potential lead-containing component, it can no longer only replace the line to the shutoff valve at the edge of the yard.

The recent rules changes require public utilities to replace lead or galvanized service lines between the city’s water main and the building’s water meter by 2040.

Some utilities have looked at rate increases in response to projected expenses, Waara said.

It remains to be seen whether Houghton’s lines will require replacement.

“Every water system’s different … we’ve done a lot of replacement of those lines in past years,” he said, noting the city’s rounds of water line repairs between 2012 and 2014.

Waara said the rules had sparked debate regarding unfunded mandates, as well as the requirement for governmental units to work on private property. He predicted the high costs for some communities would spur litigation.

“Depending on how bad it is in some communities, this could run into a lot of money that has to be raised,” he said.

The state had discussed funding repairs through a pot of money comprised of contributions from municipalities around the state.

“Every community’s going to have to deal with this in some form or fashion,” Waara said.

Councilor Buck Foltz said he would be “shocked” not to find the occasional gooseneck, lead fixtures in use since the 1940s. But many of them are already gone, he said.

“I was one of the people replacing them,” he said. “You’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere between that and the house where you would even have anything.”