One by one, city crews have spent the last two years plucking old lead service pipes from the ground and replacing them with a safer, more modern system.
Service pipes are the individual lines that deliver water from city mains under the road directly to homes lining the street. All the city's water mains are PVC plastic or, if they were installed before 1950, ductile iron, which the city is also working to replace.
In the city's older neighborhoods the service lines feeding homes are lead and since 2018 city crews have been replacing them as they've worked through neighborhoods updating the old iron water mains.
"We do a project every year," said city engineer Debi Meling.
Overall, about 800 to 900 lead service pipes were left in the city when crews started the project, said Travis Harris, an assistant city engineer. During the next four years, the city plans to replace another 500, which would nearly complete the project.
"That's the goal, to get them out of the system," Harris said.
Those homes with the lead service pipes are clustered in the neighborhoods west of Division Street between Broadwater and Grand and east Pioneer Park. The city regularly tests the water from those lines to ensure the lead isn't leaching into the drinking water. And it's not, Harris said.
Still, the lead pipes pose a certain risk, and so the city is eager to get them replaced.
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"We've been proactive," he said.
Technically, the homeowners are responsible for replacing the entire lead service pipe, but the city splits the difference. It covers the length of pipe that stretches from the water main to the end of the city's right of way in a homeowner's front yard. It's up to the homeowner to replace the length of pipe that runs from the yard to the house.
Harris noted that few homes still have the lead service from the yard to the house; most get replaced when a homeowner does home improvement work.
However, when city crews replace the city's section of pipe and find that the homeowner's section is still lead, they notify the homeowner and talk about options.
"The only portion we know for sure are lead are the parts in the street," Harris said.
The city's public works department sets aside money every year for the replacements. When crews started two summers ago they did the lead pipe replacements in conjunction with its water main replacement projects.
Last summer they started the work of just the lead pipe replacements, working street by street through the old neighborhoods. It went smoothly, Harris said, with crews getting through three to five properties a day.
Moving forward, the city anticipates tackling 120 to 150 replacements each summer at a cost of about $750,000 a year. It's hard to fix an exact cost because the city bids out the projects at the beginning of each summer, Harris said.