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Jackson to start replacing 11,000 lead water service lines

City of Jackson
Lead Service Line Replacement
Posted at 2:54 PM, Oct 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-19 21:54:35-04

JACKSON, Mich. — The city of Jackson will soon start working in earnest to replace more than 11,000 lead water services lines in the city and is launching “Lining up Jackson” to keep residents informed.

On the city’s website you will be able to see when the next lead service line replacement is going to be coming to your neighborhood, according to Public Information Officer Aaron Dimick.

“If you don’t believe that your service line is made out of lead, you can also go to the website and look up your address. There’s a map as well as an address listing to see what the status of your property is,” Dimick said.

City officials say completing the project will take more than three decades.

“We want to make sure our residents understand what Jackson’s plan is and what we’re doing when the service line replacements are coming to them,” he said. “We want to give them a realistic idea of what this means, because this is going to be a very invasive, massive project that we have to do. It’s no small task and it’s going to take a lot of constant communication with our residents to let them know what to expect.”

The city plans to replace 11,335 lead service lines over the next 35 years. Currently, just 335 lead service lines have been replaced with copper lines.

The replacements will begin in earnest starting in 2022. The city expects to replace “hundreds” of lines per year. The projected cost of the project is $120 million.

Michigan Water Improvements
FILE - In this July 20, 2018, file photo, a lead pipe is shown after being replaced by a copper water supply line to a home in Flint, Mich. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a $500 million plan Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, to upgrade drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in Michigan with actions such as replacing lead service lines and removing chemical pollutants. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

That will be paid for mostly by a water rate increase of 12 percent which will stay at that rate for the next two years. The city will look at other sources of governmental funding. Dimick said, after the state required all of the lines to be replaced, “they did not give us any funds to make that happen.”

“Whether it’s American Rescue Plan dollars or there’s more money coming from the federal government to for infrastructure that we could perhaps take advantage of, or if the state wants to be supplying water suppliers with funds to do that, that would be wonderful,” Dimick said.

Lansing was able to replace a similar number of lead service lines in far less time and at a much lower cost. According to Lansing Board of Water and Light Director Dick Peffley, they were able to accomplish the task in 12 years.

“In 2004, we undertook the removal of 12,150 lead service pipes and we finished in 2016. We took our time and did this so that it would not impact our customers rates by spreading out, especially since we weren’t having any lead or copper issues,” Peffley said.

Peffley said the entire project cost $44.5 million.

Jackson officials say there are many factors that lead them to believe it will take 35 years to replace all the lines.

“We just have a high volume of lead service lines to take care of; 11,000 might not sound like a lot but it's nearly every property in the city of Jackson,” Dimick said. “Although we decreased in population over the past 50 years, we’re still the same size, we still have relatively the same amount of buildings and housing.”

Lansing Board of Water and Light logo

In Lansing's case, it took some tinkering to make the project more efficient. They originally would go into the street and trench with a backhoe from the street into the customer’s wall. Then they would push a new line from their basement out to the street.

“It took us about nine hours to do one, so it was a full day’s work and caused a lot of damage to the lawns, the trees and taking on sidewalks. So after about a year and a half, we came up with a way to do it by pulling the pipe through the ground,” Peffley said.

They did that by designing a cutter head in-house at their engineering department which allowed them to take and dig a hole out in the street.

“Then we would push a cable through the customers water pipe into their basement, we take their meter out and then we take a spool of copper tubing in there,” Peffley said. “We would hook it to this cutter head that we designed and then we would pull the cable back using the backhoe out in the street and half the time it would pull the lead service out with it, half the time it just split it and stayed in the ground.”

This allowed BWL officials stop trenching through driveways, sidewalks and tree roots.

“It took the cost of the project down from $9,000 per house to down to about $3,500,” Peffley said. “And the time went from nine hours down to four hours. So, it was a huge savings for the utility and timesaving allowed us to finish a lot faster than we had anticipated.”

Dimick says it’s not a fair comparison between the two cities.

“A lot of people talk about Lansing and how they were able to do it a lot quicker than perhaps Jackson could,” Dimick said. “That’s because they had the foresight to do it before we thought of lead as being a big issue. Every community is going to be different and every community is going to have its challenges. We believe this is a good plan for Jackson.”

The lines in Jackson run from the water main underneath parkways, sidewalks and front yards. Then they hook into residents’ homes through the basements.

“In that $120 million we wanted to account for how much money it’s going to take to repair the street repair, the sidewalk and to repair people’s front yards,” Dimick said. “We just don’t want to tear up people’s front yards and then just fill it in with dirt. We want to do grass replacement and make sure we return it to its original state.”

city of Jackson lead service line replacement

The city will use construction season between April and November to replace the lead service lines.

City officials will approach areas with outdated water mains or sewers first out of priority.

“It could be done in 20 years, it could be done in 15, it could be done in 25 years. That would be fantastic,” Dimick said. “But, we want to be realistic about going at it at a pace that’s comfortable for our residents, that we have the people to do it and we have the money to do it.”

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