Minnesota Senate approves $240 million for lead-pipe replacement
The bill would help cover a significant chunk of the approximately $1 billion it will take to replace an estimated 100,000 remaining lead-containing service lines in the state.
ST. PAUL — In an effort to finally rid the state of lead water-service lines by the next decade, Minnesota lawmakers are advancing a bill that would put $240 million toward replacement projects.
The Minnesota Senate on Tuesday, May 9, passed a bill 64-2 that would help cover a significant chunk of the $1 billion or so it will take to replace an estimated 100,000 remaining lead-containing service lines in the state.
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, bill sponsor Sen. Jen McEwen, DFL-Duluth, emphasized that toxic lead in water lines affects rural and urban communities alike in all corners of the state, especially low-income and young Minnesotans.
“It disproportionately affects children — young children in particular — pregnant women, developing fetuses,” said McEwen. “This is a very, very important bill for our public health.”
Public health officials consider no amount of lead in drinking water safe. It can cause nervous system and brain damage, lower IQ, and cause learning and behavior problems in children. Lead can also increase the risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage, and if consumed in significant amounts it can be fatal.
Lead in new plumbing has been banned federally since 1986, but many older lines connecting homes to public water systems still contain the metal, posing an ongoing public health risk.
Replacing a service line can cost thousands of dollars. At an April news conference promoting the replacement plan, St. Paul City Council Member Chris Tolbert said it cost his family $6,000 to replace the line to their house.
To help cover those costs for property owners, the bill would open up grants for community public water suppliers, municipalities, other residential drinking water systems suppliers, and anyone eligible for grants or loans under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Grants would have to cover 100% of the cost of private parts of the lines.
McEwen’s bill and companion legislation sponsored by Rep. Sydney Jordan, DFL-Minneapolis, which unanimously passed the House last week, sets a goal of replacing all lead lines in the state by 2033. McEwen said that timeline was “somewhat ambitious” but “doable.”
With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requiring states to inventory lead service lines and eventually requiring replacement nationwide, it’ll be good for Minnesota to get a head start, she added.
In addition to the $240 million, state spending on line replacement would also unlock $43 million in federal dollars for the next five years, meaning the bill would get the state halfway to the estimated $1 billion it’ll take to replace all the lines.
Beyond public health benefits, the bill is also expected to create many jobs in the coming decade, McEwen said. In the next 10 years replacement projects will generate about 2,400 new jobs — which under the bill must be at the prevailing wages.
Grant recipients that have more than 15,000 service connections will be required to maximize the number of apprentices working on projects, as well as people underrepresented in the construction industry.
Gov. Tim Walz called for more than $240 million for pipe replacement in his updated March budget recommendations and is expected to sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk.
Follow Alex Derosier on Twitter @xanderosier or email firstname.lastname@example.org .