News Feature | February 13, 2023

Despite $15 Billion Lead Line Replacement Effort, Water Systems Will Need More From Biden

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga


President Biden utilized his most recent State of the Union address to laud the work being done to replace outdated drinking water infrastructure, but the reality for many struggling water systems around the country is a little more complicated.

“We’re replacing poisonous lead pipes that go into 10 million homes and 400,000 schools and childcare centers, so every child in America can drink clean water,” Biden said, according to The Hill.

The Biden administration has been touting a focus on the country’s pervasive lead contamination issues — which plague water systems throughout the country due to decrepit pipelines that leech the contaminant into effluent — for more than a year. This included releasing billions in infrastructure bill funds for lead pipe removal, but some flailing water systems have had trouble accessing the funds. Advocates have feared that some states could miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid due to outdated records, and smaller water systems face significant obstacles in accessing the funds as well.

But even as Biden praised his administration’s efforts on this front, the $15 billion allocated for the effort in the “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” may fall short of holistically addressing the problem.

“The amount allocated is the largest investment in the removal of lead pipe in the history of the country, and the total water investment package has been hailed as historic by the Biden administration,” The American Prospect reported. “But $15 billion is not enough money to replace every lead service line in the country — estimates lie anywhere between $28 billion and $60 billion.”

It’s also becoming clear that the federal government might be limited in its authority to completely replace lead infrastructure in working with the country’s drinking water utilities.

“Water agencies can only replace the lines they own; the rest of the responsibility falls on private owners, many of whom are less than keen given the logistics,” per the Prospect.

Ultimately, it’s clear that the Biden administration is more dedicated to fixing the problem with lead contamination than any of its predecessors have been. But those who seek clean drinking water for every consumer in the country are doubtlessly hoping the work so far is just the beginning of a stronger commitment to come.

“Bureaucracy moves slow, and change moves slower,” according to the Prospect. “From planning and mapping to replacing the lines, agencies and communities are being asked to take on a momentous task, one that will surely take more than five years.”

To read more about how water systems pay for infrastructure replacement visit Water Online’s Funding Solutions Center.