Skokie faces $80 million cost to replace pipes, keep lead out of drinking water in homes

Skokie faces  million cost to replace pipes, keep lead out of drinking water in homes

Skokie officials and village employees are beginning to confront the multi-decade, $80 million process of replacing lead water pipes throughout the village in accordance with a new state law.

Lead, which used to be a common material used for water service lines, is linked to health risks and developmental damage in children, as well as health risks in adults, according to the Mayo Clinic and other sources. The Illinois General Assembly passed the Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act in 2021, which required full replacement of lead service lines and required water utilities to submit inventories of their known lead service lines and plans to replace them, among other provisions.

Village staff warned officials that the task was enormous and on par with the village’s replacement of its stormwater management system, which Village Manager John Lockerby said took place from the 1970s through the 1990s.

Public Works Director Max Slankard told trustees Tuesday night that taking an inventory of the village service lines would be a major undertaking in itself, and added residents can assist by adding information on the metal used in their service lines to the village website.

While the village has some data on its service line materials through meter checks, replacement records and past resident reporting, Slankard warned that getting a complete picture of the system would be a serious organizational lift.

“We’re going to have to come up with a systematized way of working through areas block by block, and we’re going to have to do direct outreach instead of appointments to get into the homes,” he said.

According to a memo from Slankard to village leadership, inventory of the service lines in Skokie is just over 40% complete, accounting for 7,317 service lines. Of those lines, 3,524 were lead. That leaves 10,350 service lines of unknown material in the village.

Then there’s the cost. According to Slankard’s memo, the cost of full replacement in today’s dollars is about $79 million over 34 years.

“This is clearly an issue of long-term financial significance,” the memo states.

Lockerby told trustees the new law is an unfunded mandate, meaning that state government requires municipalities to do something but does not provide the funds to carry it out. However, work to get some funding for the replacements is underway, he said. He also acknowledged the public health goals behind the act.

“The village is respectful of the act and the intentions of the act and the public health intentions of the act,” Lockerby said.

Mayor George Van Dusen said village officials are conferring with the state to try and fund as much of the replacement as possible.

Part of what makes complying with the new law a challenge is that the law bans partial service line replacements, where the “public” portion of the pipes are replaced but “private” sections of water piping (between a residence and an access point) remain untouched.

Slankard walked trustees through a proposed “cost-sharing solution” for future lead service line replacements between village residents and the village.

Under this setup, homeowners would pay $3,000 – about half – of the cost of replacing the private portion of a service line, and would have the option of paying $53.91 per quarter for 15 years as a payment plan.

The law contains a provision for residents who don’t want to have their portion of the line replaced: they can sign a waiver that will be on file with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

Residents might not want to do this for a range of reasons, Slanker explained. The process of replacing a service line can disturb landscaping, basement finishing and other parts of a home, he said, and it’s still unclear how much of property restoration costs would be on the village as opposed to residents.

“Basic restoration of your yard, basic backfill, I’d say yes, [the village will pay for it], but your prized landscaping and all that other stuff you may have going on, [the village would not pay for it],” he said.

Skokie spokesperson Ann Tennes told Pioneer Press that village residents who are worried about water contamination can take a few precautions against potential contamination – starting with running cold water for a few minutes at the beginning of the day.

“This clears the water service line with the water that has sat in contact with the service overnight with fresh water from the water main,” Tennes wrote in an email to Pioneer Press. “If the residents are looking for a water filter pitcher, ZeroWater is one of the better ones, but a Consumer Reports search will provide additional recommendations and information.”

Consumer Reports also highly rates the Pur Ultimate with Lead Reduction water pitcher for filtering out lead.

Water service lines are made of lead, galvanized steel, or copper, Slankard said. Residents who wish to see what their pipes are made of can inspect their pipes and determine what they’re made out of by scratching the surface or just based on color.

Residents who input the results of their inspections on the village website will also help village staff take stock of more service lines throughout Skokie.

“One thing residents can do to help us as we complete this inventory is use the simple drop-down form, put your address on there [and] indicate what your pipe material is,” Slankard said.

The board did not take a vote on any lead service line replacement plan or policy, but Van Dusen said the matter would be considered as part of the budget planning process for the coming fiscal year.