News Feature | March 15, 2024

Denver Water Passes 22,000 Lead Service Lines Replaced

By Cathy Proctor


2023 was the Lead Reduction Program’s busiest year so far, with even more work slated for 2024.

As 2023, the fourth year of Denver Water’s ground-breaking Lead Reduction Program, ended, hard-working crews had replaced more than 22,000 customer-owned lead service lines with lead-free, copper lines — at no direct cost to the customers. 

That’s about one-third of the lower end of the estimated range (64,000 to 84,000) of customer-owned lead service lines believed to be in Denver Water’s service area when the program started in January 2020. It’s also up from the 15,000 lead service lines that had been replaced through the program at the end of 2022. 

“I am so impressed by the success of this program,” said Alexis Woodrow, manager of Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program. 

“It’s a testament to the partnerships Denver Water has with our customers who allow us into their homes to replace these old lead service lines, with the contractors and crews who do that work, and with the larger Denver community that supports this work, day in and day out and in so many ways. 

“This program wouldn’t happen without all of us working together,” Woodrow said. 

While there is no lead in the water Denver Water delivers to customers, lead can get into drinking water as it passes through customer-owned lead service lines (the underground pipes that carry water from the water main in the street to the home or building) and internal plumbing and fixtures that contain lead.

Denver Water’s program to reduce the risk of lead getting into drinking water is unique in many ways. Among them, state and federal regulators in 2019 supported Denver Water’s push for a permanent solution to the problem of old lead service lines by replacing them — at no direct cost to the customer — with lead-free copper lines. 

Customers enrolled in Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program also receive water pitchers and filters certified to remove lead for use for cooking, drinking, and preparing infant formula until six months after their lead line is replaced. The utility also adjusted the chemistry of the water it delivers by raising its pH, which strengthens a protective coating inside lead service lines, and launched a widespread communications, education, and outreach effort to help customers understand the program and their role in it. 

“Everyone working on this program really stepped up in 2023. With the help of federal funding, we were able to replace thousands of more lead service lines than we’d originally planned for the year,” Woodrow said.

In December 2022, Denver Water accepted $76 million in federal funding in the form of a low-interest loan from the Colorado Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. The utility will repay the loan, of which $40 million of the loan was forgiven — as allowed by the federal bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law by President Joe Biden in November 2021.

Through the end of 2023, Denver Water has replaced 22,345 lead service lines. 

“I can’t say it enough, this is a group effort,” Woodrow said. 

“All of us have worked hard to build the relationships and trust with our customers, so that they sign the consent form allowing us into their homes. There are our crews, contractors, and community partners, who are knocking on those doors and doing the work.

You need everyone working together all striving to the right thing.”

Here’s a snapshot of the Lead Reduction Program, by the numbers for 2023: 

  • 6,891 — The total number of lead service line replacements done by Denver Water in 2023, bringing the cumulative total of lead lines replaced through the program to 22,325 from January 2020 through the end of 2023. Of the 2023 number, more than 2,000 of those were done with the help of federal funding. (For context, Denver Water is required to replace nearly 5,000 lead service lines every year under the Lead Reduction Program.) 
  • 83% — According to survey results from fall 2023, the percentage of customers enrolled in the program reporting they used filtered water for cooking, drinking, and preparing infant formula. Denver Water provides customers enrolled in the program with water pitchers and filters certified to remove lead (plus replacement filters every six months) to use until six months after their lead service line is replaced. 
  • 71,776 — The number of service lines investigated, by conducting water tests designed to detect lead, inspecting the service line inside a home, potholing to look at the service line, computer modeling or a review of records associated with the line, to determine whether the pipe or a section of it is made of lead.
  • 15,191 — The number of free water tests for lead distributed to customers, by their request or due to their home being enrolled in the program. 
  • 20 — The number of organizations that have partnered with Denver Water as “Ambassadors” since the Lead Reduction Program began in 2020 to get the word out about the program. 
  • 229 — The number of events held by Denver Water and community partners during 2023 that collectively reached more than 30,000 people, including virtual meetings that drew thousands of people, in-person meetings and community events.
  • 410,700 — The number of communications with customers enrolled in the program, digitally, through the mail and via phone during the year.

The work of the Lead Replacement Program continues this year. 

“This year will continue to be busy. Our contractors will be working year-round in 33 neighborhoods this year to replace lead service lines,” Woodrow said. 

Denver Water is planning to replace another 8,000 lead service lines in 2024, making it the most ambitious effort in the life of the program. 

The year also will see additional work to improve Denver Water’s ability to pinpoint which homes have lead service lines — and which don’t — as new, national regulations around lead in drinking water are enacted at the federal level in October 2024. 

The utility also will continue conducting thousands of water tests for lead, potholing to look at service lines and determine whether they are lead — or not — and refining the computer models that help locate homes and buildings with lead service lines. 

About the Lead Replacement Program

To protect customers from lead in drinking water, Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program covers five major components: 

  • Replacing customer-owned lead service lines, which are the primary source of lead in drinking water, with lead-free copper lines at no direct cost to the customer. 
  • Managing water chemistry to support a protective coating inside the lead service lines by maintaining a pH of 8.8 in the water delivered to customers. 
  • Maintaining an interactive map showing which buildings might have lead service lines in Denver Water’s service area. 
  • Providing water pitchers and filters certified to remove lead to customers enrolled in the program to use for cooking, drinking, and preparing infant formula until six months after their lead service line is replaced. 
  • And doing outreach, communications and education with customers about the program, the biggest public health education campaign in Denver Water’s history. 

The Lead Reduction Program was approved by federal and state health regulators in 2019, and it is ground-breaking in its size and scope: the estimated 64,000 to 84,000 customer-owned lead service lines to be replaced at no direct cost to the customer; the thousands of pitchers, filters — and even more replacement filters — that have been distributed to households enrolled in the program; and the sustained, multipronged communications efforts to inform customers about the program and the role they play in its success.