Walz signs legislation to fund replacement of lead service lines on Minnesota residential properties
Officials with Conservation Minnesota said the goal is to find and replace all the lead service lines statewide within the next 10 years.
ST. PAUL -- Across Minnesota, thousands of underground service lines that snake from home basement water meters to water mains in the center of the street are made of lead, a common but unwelcome contaminant when it comes to drinking water.
The lines sit within both the public right-of-way and private residential property, and replacing them can cost property owners $10,000 or more, a sum many households would be hard-pressed to come up with on their own. On Tuesday, Gov. Tim Walz signed bipartisan legislation that would help cities across the state not only map the locations of their lead service lines, but rip them out and replace them, at no cost to homeowners.
The $240 million initiative received the unanimous backing of House lawmakers and near-unanimous support in the state Senate. The next steps will be up to municipalities to apply to the Minnesota Department of Health for grants, complete their maps and then coordinate directly with homeowners, who would have to voluntarily grant permission for their local utility to access their properties.
“It’s up to cities to talk about what is the best way to get that out there,” said state Rep. Sydney Jordan, DFL-Minneapolis, a lead author in the House. “Cities and utilities will let the customers know.”
‘How do we do the whole block?’
Flanked by lawmakers, labor leaders, environmental advocates and St. Paul officials, Walz signed the lead service line replacement bill into law during a press event outside the offices of St. Paul Regional Water Services in Maplewood. The regional utility has already mapped its entire service area and found 26,000 of its 96,000 east metro properties — many of them in St. Paul — with lead lines.
“The opportunity to map gives the opportunity to switch from a one-off repair to saying ‘How do we do the whole block?'” said St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter.
St. Paul Regional Water replaced some 350 lead service lines last year and plans another 850 lead line replacements this year using $15 million in federal grant dollars.
Patrick Shea, executive director of St. Paul Regional Water, said the utility is applying for another $35 million from the state.
“They are ahead on this,” said Walz, who said St. Paul and St. Paul Regional Water had created the “template” that other cities could copy.
Officials with Conservation Minnesota said the goal is to find and replace all the lead service lines statewide within the next 10 years, though that would likely cost nearly $800 million, well beyond the initial state funding approved Tuesday.
“This is a first step,” said Bradley Peterson, executive director of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but man, we’re off to a good start.”