The city of Nappanee has taken a proactive approach to lead service line replacement. The city’s water main was installed in 1892, and despite being that old, Water and Wastewater Superintendent Gale Gerber said the pipes are not lead, but the joints and goosenecks are. The city has not had any instances of lead exceeding recommended levels.
He said the pipes under the city are cast iron, ductile iron, asbestos concrete and PVC. And even though there is a protective barrier between the lead joints and the water, the city is taking the opportunity to replace those potentially problematic joints.
Gerber explained after what happened in Flint, Mich., Congress decided it needed to do something and made funding available to the states for local communities like Nappanee to be able to draw from. The funding is available through the State Revolving Fund. When a city or town has a water project funded through SRF, the amount it would’ve paid in interest on that loan can instead be utilized to replace lead service lines.
James McGoff, COO and director of Environmental Programs for the Indiana Finance Authority, said, unlike New Jersey, the state of Indiana did not need to pass any legislation in order to use public funds on private property.
According to a fact sheet about the program dated April 2021, “The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund Loan Program offers a reduced interest rate incentive for communities to include lead line replacement as part of their SRF projects. Lead line replacement projects include replacing complete lead and galvanized service lines. Based on the type and cost of these components, a community may be eligible for improved ranking on the SRF Project Priority List, as well as an interest rate as low as $0.00% on its SRF loan.”
The fact sheet goes on to state, “(the) SRF will only finance complete lead service line replacement projects. That is, the SRF will only finance projects that replace the entire service line from the public water main to the point at with the line connects to the customer’s premise plumbing.”
McGoff said, “We provide financing for both stand-alone lead service line replacement projects or those coupled with another project. The most economical time to replace the lead service lines is at the same time as a service main is being replaced.”
The city is also able to replace what would’ve been the property owner’s portion of the line up to one foot of the house or business. Gerber said that cost could vary anywhere from $2,500 to $3,000.
Nappanee is currently replacing a portion of its water main in the downtown area and other parts of the city. There have been multiple leaks along the aging water main. City officials contacted homeowners and obtained 264 easements.
Gerber said some decided not to participate; however, he noted when workers went door-to-door, “We tell them here’s an opportunity, do it or not.”
Some even preferred to hire their own plumbers.
Mayor Phil Jenkins said, “We can’t reduce all chances of lead — if they have lead in their house, for example, but we can significantly reduce the chances.”
Gerber said part of the requirement of the grant is that after the city gets residents hooked up, someone from the water utility has to go in and take the water meter out and flush the system before reinstalling the meter.
The first time the city took advantage of the program was in 2018 when it had an infrastructure project with new wellheads at Wellfield Park. It used the interest from that project to replace lead service lines on South Main and North Main streets — some of the oldest in the city.
Gerber believes Nappanee was the fourth city in the state to take advantage of the program and learned about it from the city’s engineers and financial consultants.
Mayor Jenkins said he thinks some “ignore the issue because it’s underground, and they don’t see it or they don’t have the funding to do it.”
Gerber said after the Flint disaster, the city had to have a sampling site plan of 40 homes. “I’m thankful for those people who were willing to participate in the program,” and the city passed without any exceedance of the allowable 15 ppb at 90 percentile.
Nappanee also tested the schools and daycares in town at that time. Gerber credited the polyphosphate the city uses to coat the pipes with keeping the water from corroding the pipes. He also credits the administration for open communication and being proactive.
“I feel we’re providing a great service to our citizens,” Gerber said.
The mayor agreed, saying, “I like to think we’re being proactive.”
Jenkins offered this advice to other communities. “Do an inventory of the age of the pipes in your system and get a good database, so you know the type of pipes you have and the risk based on the condition, the type of soil they’re in and then look at a long-term strategy asset management plan to regularly replace them.”
Gerber said now that the city has a written asset management plan, it’s helpful for planning these projects financially.
“We used to go until things fell apart and order an emergency fix — it’s best to be proactive,” he said. “Another key factor is that the administration needs to know what’s going on with the utilities so they can properly fund.”
Future lead service line replacement in Nappanee will be based on that asset management plan, and there are further projects planned because of the aging infrastructure.
Asked how much help it was to have the state and federal assistance, Jenkins replied, “There’s no way we’d be able to do what we’ve done without the help of federal and state programs. We hope more funds will be available for infrastructure — it costs a lot to maintain. Create an asset management plan as a way to fund projects with the cooperation of local, state and federal agencies.”