Much of our drinking water pipes in the United States were laid in the early to mid-20th Century with a lifespan of 75–100 years. Some of our older urban areas have water infrastructure that’s been in the ground for a century or longer. While much of this infrastructure is beneath the ground—out of sight, out of mind—we can’t ignore it, not when public health is at stake. Water infrastructure does not exist by itself. It involves people: the people who build it, operate it, maintain it, finance it and ultimately use it. The extensive nature of this infrastructure is important, and supporting the reinvestment in this critical utility service is paramount to ensuring your community is safe, and our infrastructure systems are sound.
A note on lead pipes and fixtures: As community officials, public health and safety is a number one priority. Lead is a known toxin and lead poisoning is a serious health condition. Communities have taken action to eliminate lead paint in homes and businesses—the same should be done for lead pipes and fixtures.
Water itself does not naturally contain lead. Lead can enter drinking water when old service pipes or fixtures (either owned by the utility or the private property owner) corrode—particularly where the water has high acidity or low mineral content. Conducting an assessment of old lead pipes and fixtures within your community’s water system is a first step—and is required by Illinois state law. Likewise, all municipalities should support private property owners in understanding whether they have lead pipes or fixtures and how to test for lead in water. The American Water Works Association (AWWA) has a guide for communicating about lead service lines with your community. Taking a proactive approach in assisting your community’s residents, schools and businesses in testing and taking a proactive approach to replacing lead pipes and fixtures is of utmost importance today.
In addition to the steps above, there are a number of useful guides and handbooks available that outline the basics and best practices for implementing asset management programs, creating capital improvement plans and reinvesting in our drinking water infrastructure to ensure community health and well-being. References and links to these helpful resources can be found in the resource section of this guide.