Pennsylvania American Water has filed a request with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) seeking approval to replace customer-owned lead service lines when company-owned lead lines are removed and to bear the full cost of replacement.
Pennsylvania American Water’s proposal allots $6 million annually to replace the company’s and customers’ lead service lines.
“With this filing, we are taking an important first step toward a long-term solution to eliminate lead service lines that exist within our communities’ water infrastructure,” said Pennsylvania American Water President Jeffrey McIntyre. “Lead service lines largely remain in older neighborhoods where the prohibitive costs often prevent homeowners from replacing them. We are asking for PUC approval to address this public health risk, and we have proposed a reasonable approach to recover the cost of our investments.”
McIntyre stressed that Pennsylvania American Water has a long history of complying with federal and state drinking water regulations for lead. For the last 30 years, the company’s lead sampling program has remained in compliance across its water systems. He credited this record of performance to the company’s effective corrosion control measures and ongoing, professional management of its distribution system.
“We believe that eliminating lead service pipes, together with our proven corrosion control water treatment practices, is a very effective strategy to maintain regulatory compliance well into the future,” said McIntyre.
Preliminary surveys of the company’s distribution system inventory indicate an estimated 18,000 customer premises are connected to lead service lines. These properties comprise less than 3 percent of the total number of customers who receive water service from Pennsylvania American Water. In its PUC filing, the company requests investing up to $6 million annually through a two-part program:
Proactively remove and replace, with the customer’s consent, any lead service lines that are encountered when the company is replacing water mains and company-side service lines; and
At the customer’s request, remove and replace lead service lines, subject to the customer verifying that his/her property has a lead service line. Under this proposal, the company will coordinate customer-requested replacements and group the requests by geographic location. Lead line replacements will take place when the number of requests in a given location enables the company to realize reasonable economies of scale by completing the work as a single project.
Although Pennsylvania American Water proposes to replace customer-owned lead service lines, its filing states the company will not take ownership or be responsible for maintaining or repairing the customer’s service line in the future.
Each year, Pennsylvania American Water targets the replacement of 1 percent of the aging water main in its approximately 10,000-mile network of pipe. The company identifies specific areas for its ongoing water main and service line replacement program based on a variety of factors, including water quality concerns, pipe age, material and history of breaks. McIntyre said the opportunity to eliminate its remaining lead service lines is another factor when planning water main and service line replacement projects.
“A growing body of research indicates that ‘partial’ replacement of lead services, where only the utility-owned or customer-owned portion is replaced and the other segment remains, actually elevates the risk of lead contamination,” said McIntyre. He cited the National Drinking Water Advisory Council’s recommendation that the EPA revise federal regulations to require complete replacement of both the utility and customer segments of service connections that contain lead.
Pennsylvania American Water also seeks permission from the PUC to recover its investment through the existing mechanism known as the Distribution System Improvement Charge (DSIC). If the PUC authorizes it to recover lead service line replacements through the DSIC, the company estimates it will have a negligible effect on its customers’ water bills — approximately 11 cents per month.