Mar 22, 2023

EPA behind inventory of water lines in Great Bend, other municipalities

Posted Mar 22, 2023 7:00 PM

Great Bend Post

City of Great Bend officials want residents to know an upcoming inventory regarding lead water service lines is not the city's idea. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates there are between 6 and 10 million lead service lines in the country. The federal agency is now using state and municipal governments to begin replacement of those lines. Public Works Director Jason Cauley presented the issue to the city council during Monday's meeting.

"They're wanting all public water services to have a lead inventory, so they're requiring us to go through and survey all of our services to find out if there's lead in the ground," he said. "If there's lead in the ground, they want us to come up with an action plan to replace that lead."

Cauley said the city's policy is already to replace lead lines when they are found. For its part, the city has already taken a few steps, including poring through old records for documentation of lead. Visual inspections are the next step, but Cauley said the EPA wants all lines inventoried.

"One of the most complex parts of this is, EPA is not only requiring us to survey our side, they also want to know what the customer has," he said. "Our typical rule of thumb is anything past the meter is the customer's responsibility. EPA says that may be, but we still need to know what that line is."

That puts the city in a tight spot as the EPA can hold the city accountable even if customers choose not to participate in the inventory. Cauley and councilmembers agreed there may need to be an incentivized push to help with the inventory, even utilizing local plumbers.

Cauley spent a decade with the water department and recalls replacing only one lead service line. Councilmember Alan Moeder has 46 years of plumbing service and has never replaced a lead line in the city. Newer lines, however, might still have lead goosenecks.

"We do have a lot of cast iron," said Cauley. "Cast iron, there's the possibility of having those goosenecks. Every time we find one of those, we immediately replace it, retap the service, put a new service line in."

The EPA wants inventory on lines from the meter to the foundation. Cauley said that means actually seeing the lines, performing a scratch test, and taking a photo so it can be identified.

"What they're recommending is they want you to actually visualize your line," he said. "They're not recommending doing any self-tests of anything of that nature. They want visual proof of what you have. That is another burden back on the homeowner."

Interim City Administrator Logan Burns said the city has records for every address within the city, with every permit dating back approximately 80 years. Those permits may or may not include what type of material was used to replace any lines. The goal for the city now is to plug all the data into a spreadsheet and determine any possible lead hotspots.

"I think with the data we have, we can have a general idea where the potential for that could be," Cauley said. "Once we figure out where the potential could be, instead of hitting every house, we could hit maybe every third house if need be to figure that out."

The EPA set a deadline of October 2024 for the inventory. Part of step one for the city will be mailing out a survey to property owners. The EPA has not specified a penalty for municipalities that are non-compliant, and Cauley is hopeful the scope of the project will result in more time to get it done.

"We'll see how the surveys pan out and see what kind of data we can get," he said. "Hopefully, there are a lot of people having the same issue. I'm hoping they start moving that goalpost a little bit and giving us more time and maybe altering some things."