PEORIA, Ill. (WMDB) — Illinois has unenviable status as the state with the most lead water pipes in the country, but now the state is leading the way to replace those pipes.
There are nearly 700,000 drinking water lead pipes throughout the state, according to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
State Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) co-sponsored the Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act, which requires full replacement of all drinking water lead pipes. The law went into effect on Jan. 1, making Illinois the third state in the nation to do so.
“We want to make sure we remove lead lines from service in communities,” said Koehler.
According to the Illinois Environmental Council, an environment advocacy group, Illinois ranks higher than the national average for childhood lead exposure. Prolonged exposure to lead can lead to lifelong intellectual, emotional and behavioral problems, stunted growth, anemia, low IQ and hearing problems.
Illinois American Water controls all drinking water in Peoria. The company is investing $5 million to upgrade 16,000 feet of water main and $950,000 for a new pump station in Peoria.
Iyana Simba, city programs manager with Illinois Environmental Council, sits on the advisory board created by the new law. She said it’s good to be proactive like Illinois American Water as the advisory board develops a long-term plan.
“I think it’s great. I think it speaks to the need not only in Peoria but across the state for us to invest more in our water infrastructure systems,” she said.
More than 10,000 drinking water pipes in Peoria contain lead. Koehler said those pipes are in older parts of the city, such as the East Bluff neighborhood, where he lives.
“I just had a big eruption of water on my street. The lead line that was from the main line to my water meter burst and it was lead. And so I had to dig up the whole street and replace it all… So the newer areas they won’t have much of a problem, but the older areas they will have a problem,” he said.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allocated $565 million over five years to replace lead service lines in Illinois. But the need is in the billions, Simba said.
“We’re trying to figure out what are the best recommendations for how we raise funds,” she said.
Koehler said homeowners won’t owe a dime.
“The focus of the bill is to have this done without homeowner expense… The homeowner should not be responsible for this. They didn’t put the lead lines in,” he said.
Illinois American Water releases a water quality report annually. The action level, or lead concentration in water that triggers pipe replacement, is 15ppb. Four out of 50 homes in Peoria are above that action level, according to the 2021 water report. But in 2019 and 2020, just one out of 50 homes were above the action level.
But Simba said that could be benign; it likely represents lead discharge from pipes due to ongoing water main replacements.