Gladstone, Escanaba face different paths on water issue

GLADSTONE — Two local cities, Escanaba and Gladstone, are approaching changes to Michigan’s new lead copper rule in different ways — one setting up for an increase in revenue to cover the costs the new rule forces the city to cover and one setting up guidelines for service line replacements until they have to start actively replacing lines.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) — formerly the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality — has set new rules regarding the replacement of lead service lines. Under the regulations, which take effect in July, cities must begin replacing lead service lines at a rate of 5 percent of the lines within a municipality starting in 2021.

Escanaba recently approved a 45 percent increase to water rates that will take effect July 1 to cover the costs, while Gladstone created new service line guidelines.

“We probably have less to do than Escanaba. Meaning the number of (replacements) that have to be done, just because so many have been done in the past,” said Gladstone Water Superintendent Rob Spreitzer on why his approach differs from Escanaba’s approach. He explained for years Gladstone has been actively removing lead goosenecks and replacing them with copper laterals when replacing service lines and water mains, and also had a standing policy if someone replaced their service line with copper, the city would replace its portion with copper at the same time.

He said Gladstone isn’t proposing a water rate increase right now, but one is likely to occur. Spreitzer added it won’t be just because of the new rule, but for other maintenance projects as well.

“There will be at sometime a rate increase, yes,” he said. “There should always be rate increases (throughout the years) to keep up.”

Michigan is the first state to mandate all lead service lines between water mains and customer meters be replaced, to prohibit replacing only part of a lead service line except in an emergency, and to require water utilities to pay for new lines.

With the new rule, water utilities are responsible for covering the cost of both the municipal portion and private portion of the service line if any portion of the line consists of lead.

The new rules require more than just the removal of the portion of the pipe containing lead. Because it is believed small bits of lead can migrate from the leaded portion of the line to cracks or other areas of the galvanized pipe, it mandates municipalities replace water lines up to the meters, which are typically located inside the basement of a home.

Spreitzer said right now he is working on a Preliminary Distribution System Materials Inventory (DSMI) on all of the service lines in Gladstone. The inventory is mandatory, as per the new rule, and is due January 1, 2020.

The city of Gladstone has no full or partial lead service lines, but there are goosenecks (part of the water line connection) made of lead.

“We’re at about 75 percent of the system is already copper — it might be closer to 80 once we get done doing a little more investigation. We’re at about 15 percent galvanized. We’re at about 9 percent unknown,” Spreitzer said, adding the unknown is more than likely galvanized.

He said most of the galvanized is connected to copper, however some do fall under the definition of once being connected to lead and will be needing to be replaced.

Around half of the distribution system is on the Bluff area, and because a majority of that area didn’t get serviced until 1993, no lead was used and its all newer iron, brass and copper, noted Spreitzer.

He explained Gladstone’s new water service line replacement guidelines were created because customers have already started calling with the belief the city has to pay for a new water service line for their property.

The new guidelines are water department will cover the full cost of service line replacement only if the service line is leaking and connected to a lead gooseneck — both of these conditions must exist in order to qualify for full reimbursement. In addition, all property owners will still be responsible for arranging the contractor or contractors of their choice for excavation and installation of the service line, which is the current practice.

The water department will also now provide one inch copper to all customers replacing their galvanized service lines regardless of the presence of lead.

Spreitzer explained to be fair to all of the water customers in Gladstone, copper will still be provided in cases where no lead is found when customers are replacing their galvanized lines before line failure or if their water main is being replaced. Under these circumstances, the water department will only cover the expense of the lateral replacement and provide enough one inch type K copper to reach from the property line to 18 inches inside the house.

The new guidelines were recently approved at a Gladstone City Commission meeting.