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Denver Water at White House summit on lead pipes

Work to replace tens of thousands of lead service lines across Denver draws national attention.

At the first-ever White House summit on the work to replace lead service lines, Alexis Woodrow figures she was probably 5 feet from the summit’s host: Vice President Kamala Harris. 

“But given all the other people around us,” said Woodrow, manager for Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program, “I wasn’t about to get any closer.” 

Harris emphasized the importance of clean water to families and communities. 

Learn about Denver Water’s groundbreaking Lead Reduction Program

“It should be a right of every occupant of this Earth and of our country to have clean water. But in many communities, families, children and parents cannot take for granted they can turn on a tap and clean water will come out,” Harris said at the Jan. 27 summit. 

“There’s nothing about this that should be considered a luxury or an option, it (clean water) is essential to the substance of life and well-being of every person on our planet.” 

Vice President Kamala Harris, in this screenshot from YouTube, speaks on Jan. 27 at the first-ever White House Summit on Accelerating Lead Service Line Replacement. Photo credit: White House.

Denver Water’s groundbreaking Lead Reduction Program, launched in January 2020, has gained nationwide attention for the size and scope of its fast-tracked effort to remove tens of thousands of customer-owned lead service lines — at no direct cost to the customer. 

In addition to installing new, lead-free copper lines, the program also provides customers enrolled in the program with water pitchers and filters certified to remove lead to use until their lead service line is replaced. 

Customers enrolled in Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program are provided with water pitchers and filters certified to remove lead to use for cooking, drinking and preparing infant formula until six months after their lead service line is replaced. Photo credit: Denver Water.

But even so, it was an honor when organizers of the White House Summit on Accelerating Lead Pipe Replacement asked Denver Water to send a representative to the meeting to discuss the program with community leaders nationwide, Woodrow said.

The Jan. 27 summit drew more than 100 people from state and local government, water utilities, labor unions, water industry associations, environmental organizations and the private sector — many of whom used the line to do a rapid COVID test in order to enter the White House as a great opportunity for networking, she said. 

“There were so many people from different backgrounds and expertise,” Woodrow said. 

The group included the former mayor of New Orleans, the secretary of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency and the head of the national plumbers union. Representatives from companies working on different aspects of the lead replacement effort — such as 120Water, an Indiana company that manages the delivery of the pitchers and water filters as well as water testing kits for Denver Water’s program — also were invited. 

Alexis Woodrow (center, speaking), the program manager for Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program, talks about the important role partnerships play in the program at the Jan. 27 White House summit on Accelerating Lead Pipe Replacement. Photo credit: Screenshot from White House YouTube page. 

“You really got a sense of the partnerships that it takes on so many levels to do the work that we’re doing here in Denver, and how lucky we are, and how much work we’ve done, to have the kind of partnerships in place that have made this a successful program,” Woodrow said. 

Prior to the summit, Denver Water was among the 123 partners who signed onto a new “Get the Lead Out Partnership.” 

The partnership set out a list of principles that are embedded in Denver Water’s program, including prioritizing replacements in vulnerable and underserved communities, replacing the entire lead service line from the water main in the street to the building, using federal funding to fast-track the work and communicating with customers about the importance of this effort.

At the summit, the EPA announced that $1.2 billion in federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law revolving loan funds have already reached 23 states for lead service line identification and replacement. In 2022, Denver Water received $76 million in federal funding to further accelerate the replacement work already underway. 

Learn how $76 million in federal funding will fast-track Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program. 

“We have tens of thousands of lead service lines left to replace, and this funding will help us accelerate the program, and replace lines faster than we would have otherwise,” Woodrow said. 

In addition to Harris speaking to the group, the summit also included panels — with Woodrow representing Denver Water on a discussion focused on partnerships.

The panel was moderated by Candice Valshing, the associate director for climate, energy and environment at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. Other panel members included Tim Male, executive director, Environmental Policy Innovation Center; Julie Morita, executive vice president, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; and Mark McManus, general president of the labor union United Association.

Woodrow touched on the major elements of Denver Water’s program, the different kinds of jobs it has created — including replacement work, landscape restoration and community outreach, and the importance of partnering with community groups to help with education and support for the program. 

Watch the “Partnerships on Lead” panel, which starts about 90 minutes into the summit. 

“You have to build trust and Denver Water has been fortunate to be able to do that,” Woodrow said, adding that “I’d like to see the people in this room empower utilities to take this effort on.” 

Looking back, Woodrow is pleased Denver Water was invited to participate in the summit and is looking forward to future meetings of the partners. 

“Denver Water absolutely is a leader on this national effort,” Woodrow said. 

“We represent water utilities doing this right, because we do this every day and we’ve been doing it for years.”