Green Bay Water Utility on schedule to replace all lead pipes by end of 2020

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) -- The Green Bay Water Utility is closing in on its goal of replacing all lead pipes in the city by the end of 2020.

When complete, the water utility will have invested about $9 million in lead service replacement.

Action 2 News has been following the replacement of lead pipes in the City of Green Bay since 2016, when the big push came from Green Bay Water Utility General Manager Nancy Quirk.

“We have been aggressively removing lead services and are ahead of our schedule to be complete by December 30, 2020,” said Quirk.

In 2016, there were 1,782 utility-owned lead services in Green Bay. After three years of work, that number is down to 445. This year alone, the utility has replaced 173 of them, totaling about $870,000.

While replacing its utility-owned lead pipes, the utility is also helping owners change out their lead pipes free of charge with some creative funding.

“In Green Bay, our citizens have not had to pay at all,” said Quirk. To help homeowners, the utility uses "safe drinking water" loans from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They also received money from the city when it had excess stadium tax money.

To date, the water utility has replaced 212 private home lead pipes, with only 22 more to go. Quirk said if they run into funding trouble, they will turn to a newly-passed bill authored by Senator Robert Cowles.

“The bill allows utilities to use rate prayer money to pay up to 50 percent of the cost of the lead service replacement, the property owner has to have that other 50 percent,” said Quirk.

“The bill allows an individual water utility, if they get approved, to use reserved funds or ask for a small increment on bills to go after lead pipes,” said Senator Cowles. “So over a period of years we can get rid of all our lead pipes.”

During a visit to Green Bay, EPA Assistant Water Administrator, David Ross, said he wants to take Green Bay’s example back to Washington D.C.

“I heard green bay was doing some creative work in taking lead service lines out, but more importantly how you get into private property, which is something we struggle to do as the federal government. So you are using creative financing to getting into the private property aspect of this instead of stopping at the public line,” said Ross.

Meanwhile, Senator Andre Jacque said the state’s Task Force on Water Quality will be “going around different parts of the state and looking at regional issues to see if we can help with clean drinking water.”