(The Center Square) — A federal program aimed at replacing lead plumbing, which poses health risks in disadvantaged communities, has opened in Pennsylvania and three other states in recent weeks.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working with Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to identify and replace lead plumbing in disadvantaged communities using federal grants and forgivable loans.
The Lead service line replacement accelerator (LSLR) initiative, as it’s officially known, brings the Biden administration closer to its goal of providing 100% lead-free water systems nationwide. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) funds the program.
The EPA estimates Up to 20% of human exposure to lead can come from drinking water. Lead and copper are rarely found in public water sources such as rivers or streams, but are more likely to enter tap water through municipal or domestic plumbing.
Hundreds of schools across the state have already done so report elevated lead levels in their drinking water, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. While some have taken remedial action, others have decommissioned fountains and fixtures.
2022, Pennsylvania received over $300 million for water infrastructure projects from Congress totaling $50 billion allocated to projects nationwide.
Gov. Josh Shapiro said his administration is ready to work with the president, vice president and federal partners “to make life-saving investments that provide clean drinking water to families across the Commonwealth … regardless of their zip code.”
EPA is working with state partners who will work with 40 municipalities in these states in 2023 to remove existing barriers and expedite the identification and replacement process.
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) press secretary Jamar Thrasher told The Center Square that they have not yet chosen which water systems will participate in the program. However, they intend to “target and work with small systems because they would benefit most from this particular technical assistance program,” he said.
Thrasher said that 89% of the state’s 1,894 municipal water systems are considered “small systems” and often lack technical, managerial or financial capabilities. He said the federal infrastructure program targets those small and disadvantaged communities that show the greatest need.
The federal infrastructure program is providing $15 billion in grants and loans for lead pipe replacement through the EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. Forty-nine percent of these funds must be made available to disadvantaged communities as grants or home waiver loans.
In addition to these soft loans, Congress authorizes annual funds that are used by the EPA to award capitalization grants to each state based on its needs. The state provides a 20% adjustment.
According to Thrasher, PENNVEST — the agency responsible for funding sewage, stormwater and drinking water projects in the state — will also manage the bulk of the funding for the Lead Replacement Initiative.
Larger water systems — such as those in Erie County and Pittsburgh — have sufficient in-house capacity to conduct lead service line inventories and apply for funding without requiring technical assistance from the state or EPA, Thrasher said. You have already received funding for several LSLR projects from PENNVEST and can apply for additional federal funding if required.