At a Glance
Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) has had a very successful program to control the corrosion of lead for many years. However, the Flint crisis, along with a desire to enable the removal of lead plumbing versus continued mitigation, prompted the utility to develop a lead service line replacement program.
Although Cincinnati stopped installing lead service lines (LSL) around 1927, an estimated 44,000 remain within the GCWW service area. These pipes cross public and private property between the water main in the street and the meter in the house. In order to promote LSL replacement, GCWW knew it needed to increase efforts to inform the public about the risks of lead in drinking water and educate them on ways to mitigate that risk, with the best method being full LSL replacement. As a result, GCWW developed a 2-tiered approach to enhance its long-standing and successful lead program: Tier 1 includes public outreach and education strategies, and Tier 2 assists property owners with LSL replacement on private property.
With an estimated cost of around $5000 per LSL replacement, customer affordability was identified early on as a major hurdle to private property LSL replacement. GCWW focused on developing financial assistance strategies to encourage and enable customer participation. With about 90% of the LSLs within the City of Cincinnati municipal limits, the challenge was greater due to higher numbers of low income and rental households, along with depressed real estate values in older areas of the City where LSLs are numerous.
Tier 1 Lead Program solutions involved enhanced public communication and education and were designed and implemented with existing utility resources. GCWW is utilizing various tools to reach customers and targeted audiences (such as the school community, child care operators, residents on water main replacement projects, etc.). The following is a list of outreach methods initiated, and corresponding metrics are tracked via in-house dashboards created by GCWW's IT staff.
• New website: lead.mygcww.org
• 513-651-LEAD Hotline
• Social Media - Facebook, Twitter
• Letters sent to customers who have lead service branches
• Free Lead Testing with follow up assistance and testing for elevated results
• Comprehensive School Lead Testing Program - follows USEPA 3T's Guidance
• Partnership with City and County Health Departments
• Provision of Water Filter Pitchers
• LSL Lookup Map by Address - on-line GIS based map showing absence/presence of LSL for both the public and private side, searchable by address
• Speaker's Bureau with attendance and outreach to 52 Cincinnati neighborhood council monthly meetings
• Targeted small group conversations with property owners to get feedback and insight as program was developed
Tier 2 of the program has been greatly focused on making LSL replacement as affordable as possible, along with a goal of minimizing the time between private and public side replacement. Development of this program involved many steps, from the initial concept to writing City legislation to gaining the support and involvement of local plumbing contractors. Working within the legal constraints of a municipally owned utility structure with a service area that includes over 20 additional municipalities and numerous townships, the challenges were many, not to mention perhaps the most complicating factor: a majority of the work would need to be done on private property.
The program proposed to Cincinnati City Council (GCWW's governing and rate setting authority) involved ordinances to declare LSLs a public health and safety risk, and private LSL replacement costs therefore designated as a public purpose. Additionally, LSLs were prohibited within the water system (with an enforcement grace period), and LSL replacement was required in lieu of repair. With these pieces in place, and the required changes to the Cincinnati Municipal Code made, LSL replacement program elements were established, again by ordinance, to provide financial assistance to property owners. Legislation was passed which:
• Provided a cost share of 40% (up to $1500) per property for replacement
• Authorized the balance of the cost to be paid by owners as an interest free special assessment option paid with their property tax bill over a period of up to 10 years (for Cincinnati residents and outside municipalities authorizing the same)
• Allowed for a donation program to further assist low income property owners
- The cost share and assessment option provide incentives for participation in the program. Additionally, homeowners like no up-front cost and the assessment transfers upon property sale.
- Participation is either through a water main replacement project, via property owner request, or required if the service line is leaking.
- Rates of participation for LSL replacements on completed water main projects is around 25%. Rates of participation for individual customer quotes is over 60%
- GCWW is working with many partners on this program, including health departments, schools, and local governments (who must provide the assessment option separately for their constituents).
- GCWW started a donation fund called H.E.L.P. (Help Eliminate Lead Pipes). This program provides an additional 30% credit on the balance (after cost share) for income-qualified home owners.
This program is unique and represents innovate thinking and design at many levels of GCWW. The program was conceptualized and implemented entirely in-house, and at this time has received no outside funding beyond donations. GCWW utilized existing legal and technological pathways to enable this program.
Who Should Consider?
All public water systems that have LSLs within their system.