Unfunded mandate from EPA to replace lead service pipes could double Quincy water rates

Lead pipes

An individual holds a lead pipe, a steel pipe and a lead pipe treated with protective orthophosphate. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a rule requiring water utilities to remove lead pipes decades after new ones were banned. | Photo courtesy of Environmental Protection Agency

QUINCY — Public Works Director Jeffrey Conte told the Quincy City Council during its Monday meeting that the city may be forced to double water rates within 10 years unless it gets help paying for an unfunded mandate the Environmental Protection Agency recently announced.

The EPA announced on Dec. 1 a proposed update to the lead and copper rule strengthening President Joe Biden’s earlier goal of eradicating lead pipes. The proposed rule would also lower the lead limit in water by one-third.

Community water supplies in Illinois reported 677,359 known lead service lines connected to water systems in 2019, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. 

“Lead in drinking water is a generational public health issue, and EPA’s proposal will accelerate progress towards President Biden’s goal of replacing every lead pipe across America once and for all,” EPA administrator Michael Regan said in a news release.

Quincy Mayor Mike Troup said during Monday’s meeting the city has more than 6,000 lead pipe water connections.

“(City officials have) been looking at this, going through to see where they all are,” Troup said after the meeting. “The newest areas, like the east end, have fewer (lead pipes) than the oldest part of the city.”

Federal proposal calls for lead service lines to replaced by 2037

At the end of Monday’s nearly 90-minute meeting, Troup asked aldermen if they wanted to address anything. Glen Ebbing (R-5) asked Conte to explain the EPA proposal. Conte said the federal proposal called for lead service lines to be replaced by 2037. He said the Illinois statutes call for the lines to be replaced by 2047.

“There’s been no information on how it’s going to be funded or whether or not the U.S. EPA is going to provide lead service line replacements,” Conte said. “If they don’t, we would expect that the cost to the city was up dramatically. By condensing the schedule, we would expect the unit prices to go up because of supply and demand. There’s just going to be a lot more to do and a lot more to pay for each service.

“It’s too early to say whether or not these rules will be enacted. They’ll probably be enacted close to it. Whether or not (the EPA will) change or extend that deadline. I don’t know yet. I’d say probably not. I probably say the draft rules will likely to be the final rules. The big thing is whether or not the EPA is going to come up with the funding to assist the local governments to pay for these improvements.”

“If we don’t get any assistance from the federal government, more than likely we’re going to have to raise water rates. Right?” Ebbing asked.

“Absolutely. Yes,” Conte said.

Conte estimates $60 million cost in Quincy

Conte said he used “round numbers” and “back of the envelope” math to come up with a $60 million estimate to replace lead service lines in Quincy under the proposed federal rules. He said that’s an equivalent of about $12.50 per month for each residential customer above what they’re paying now.

“Hopefully, there’s going to be some grant funding to pay for this,” he said. “This is going to be quite a squeeze on our operating funds.”

Conte said about 600 lead service lines must be replaced annually, starting in 2027, to meet the federal 2037 deadline. He said the city has replaced “10 to 20 at a time,” and the city has two grants totaling $1.4 million that will help “get a couple hundred out of the way.”

Jeff Bergman asked if the city also incurred normal expenses with water and sewer infrastructure going forward that $12.50 a month “could turn into 15 or $20 a month.” 

“The base rate for water is about $15 a month, so yeah, it would be about a doubling of the base rate for water,” Conte said. 

For much of the 20th Century, utilities were permitted to install lead service lines, the pipes that carry water from water mains under the street into homes. The EPA banned them in 1986, but utilities have never been required to remove existing pipes.In fact, the Missouri Independent reported some utility companies don’t know where the remaining lead service lines are.

Lead is a neurotoxin that in high doses can be fatal. It was in pipes, gasoline and household paint for most of the last century, exposing generations of children to its effects. The National Resources Defense Council estimated replacing lead service lines would lead to hundreds of billions of dollars in avoided health expenses, primarily from reduced cardiovascular disease.

Aldermen send requests for nightclub, subdivision to Plan Commission

Aldermen sent three petitions to the Plan Commission:

  • A request by Joe and Marlene Churchill to rezone a 6.52-acre parcel immediately east of Lake Ridge Drive and immediately north of North 52nd Street to allow for the construction of a subdivision with 32 cluster homes.
  • A request by Clifford and Beverly Wainman requesting the vacation of the southern-most portion (approximately 1,725 square feet) of the public north/south alley bounded by South 14th Street, Jersey Street, South 16th Street and Kentucky Street. 
  • A request by Nancy Callaway requesting a special permit to allow for the operation of a night club at 428 Maine.

Equipment purchased to monitor ammonia at wastewater treatment plant

Aldermen approved a quote from R.E. Pedrotti of Fenton, Mo., for $17,973 for equipment to assist with the detection and monitoring of influent ammonia at the wastewater treatment plant.

Conte said the plant is limited by the EPA how much “treated effluent” (wastewater) can be discharged. 

“Every time we’ve had a violation, it’s turned out that we’ve had a very high level of ammonia coming into the wastewater treatment plant — more than a biological system can treat at one time,” he said. “We don’t know about this until it happens or until we get our results about a week or so after the event has happened. We’ve already missed the opportunity to correct.”

Conte said the city is trying to discover the source of the ammonia, and the equipment will help.

“It’s got to be an industrial source, but we don’t know who it is,” he said. “We’ve reached out to all the industries, and no one is aware of any issues. Now this could be released unbeknownst to the industry. Having this appointment, we will be notified immediately when we have a high volume of ammonia, track that backwards and find out where it’s coming from.”

Troup announced he is actively seeking candidates to replace Brianna Rivera, who is stepping down from her position as alderman in the 3rd Ward at the end of the month. Troup also noted this week is the last week for curbside yard waste pickup throughout the city.

Aldermen also approved:

  • An intergovernmental agreement for the Quincy Fire Department’s participation in the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System. Fire Chief Bernie Vahlkamp explained the agreement allows other departments to request additional help or equipment. If the city assists, it will be reimbursed with money provided by the Homeland Security Act.
  • An invoice from Richards Electric Motor Company of Quincy for $9,475.39 to replace a SCADA programmable logic controller. 
  • A quote from Overhead Door of Quincy for $18,754 to replace a rolling curtain door at the wastewater treatment plant. 
  • A low bid from GFL Environmental for $18,000 for a two-year dumpster service at the airport, water treatment plant and wastewater treatment plant. 
  • An invoice from Watson Plumbing and Building Contractors for $14,889 to repair a sewer lateral connection at 110 S. 11th. 
  • A proposal from Gateway Industrial Power for $71,765 for annual service and maintenance of 11 city-owned generators for five years. 
  • A quote from Midwest Meter, Inc. of Edinburg, for $7,986 for 100 Ford Copperhorns.
  • Using $350,000 grant from the Department of Commerce and Economic Development to assist with the cost of the demolition of a sludge dome building and a 375,000-gallon water tank on the Quincy riverfront. The grant originally was earmarked to remove power lines along the riverfront, but now the city will use it to clear space required for the construction of an amphitheater planned by the Riverfront Development Corporation.
  • A quote from Beazley Syndicates at Lloyd’s Insurance Corp. for the renewal of required fuel storage tank liability insurance for $9,527. 
  • A quote from Royalty Electric LLC for $14,510 for a generator automatic transfer switch.
  • An ordinance changing Preservation Commission alderman appointments.
  • An ordinance adding a four-way stop at 16th and Sycamore.
  • A planned development by Morgan Evans to allow for automobile sales at 1205 N. 12th.
  • An ordinance to amend the 2023-24 Fiscal Year budget, increasing revenues by $156,000 due to additional interest income received by the General Fund. The request also increases expenditures by only $136,000. The increase will cover the unbudgeted portion of the $226,135 cost of IT storage approved at the Nov. 27 City Council meeting.
  • Closing State Street between Seventh and Eighth for two weeks to demolish a building, once used as a butcher shop, to the south of Maverick’s Landing Zone, 500 S. Eighth.

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