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Midwest mayors say more funds are needed to replace lead water lines, and work must be done equitably

Midwest mayors say more funds are needed to replace lead water lines
Midwest mayors say more funds are needed to replace lead water lines 02:36

MILWAUKEE (CBS) -- A staggering number of people in Illinois are drinking dangerous, lead-laced water.

In fact, our lead pipe situation is the worst in the country.

The CBS 2 Investigators have been uncovering the problem for years as part of our "Getting Hosed" series on bad water bills. As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported, another push has been launched by elected officials to get the money needed to fix the issue.

Mayors from around the Midwest came together Thursday for a summit in Milwaukee. The reason was to plead their cases to federal and state officials with decision-making power over how federal money will be spent to replace dangerous lead pipes.

You don't have to look far to see the result of under investment in water infrastructure. The chronic water main woes in south suburban Dixmoor are just the tip of the iceberg.

The more dangerous problem is one you can't see - lead contamination from decades-old lead service lines.

At the "One Water Summit" Thursday, we learned there are more than 3.1 million lead service lines in the Great Lakes states. An estimated 730,000 are in Illinois - the highest concentration in the country.

Runners up are Ohio with 650,000, Michigan with 460,000, and Indiana with 290,000.


"This year's work alone will cost around $1.5 million," Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss said at the summit.

Biss said they must replace more than 11,000 lead service lines — at a cost of over $168 million.

"Without additional outside funding, this would result in an increase of more than 70 percent to our retail customers," Biss said.

That figure is nothing compared to the issue in Chicago. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday that there are at least 380,000 lead service lines in the city.

Lightfoot estimates it would take $8 billion to $10 billion to replace them all.

"Our city's urban density makes underground infrastructure replacement particularly challenging, and site restoration even more complex," Lightfoot said on a video clip shown at the summit.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law set aside $15 billion for lead service line replacements.

Great Lakes mayors identified three important factors they think should be taken into consideration:

  • A city's density of lead service lines;
  • Elevated blood lead levels among kids;
  • An emphasis on disadvantaged communities — where many of these lead service lines still need to be replaced.

"It's our responsibility as leaders of city, state, and federal agencies to ensure that these historic investments are distributed equitably," said Zion Mayor Bill McKinney said at the summit.

Local and national Environmental Protection Agency officials attended the summit. They said they would be taking all of the testimony into account as they move forward with the distribution of water-infrastructure dollars. 

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