Tackling lead at its source, the first six months
Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program is off to a successful start in 2020, replacing more than 1,300 lead service lines in the first six months of the comprehensive program despite challenges presented by COVID-19.
The program, which launched Jan. 1, aims to reduce the risk of lead exposure in drinking water and raise awareness about this community issue.
While there is no lead in the water Denver Water delivers to its customers, lead can get into water if it passes through lead service lines and household plumbing that contains lead.
There is no safe level of lead in drinking water, and lead poses a significant health risk for infants and young children because it can lead to developmental problems.
The primary source of lead in drinking water comes from lead service lines. These are pipes that deliver water from water mains under the street to homes and businesses. Service lines are owned by customers and not Denver Water.
There are an estimated 64,000 to 84,000 lead service lines in Denver Water’s service area. As part of the Lead Reduction Program, the utility plans to replace all of the lines with new lead-free copper pipes by 2035.
Denver Water is planning to replace more than 140 service lines a week during the second half of 2020.
“This is a large and complex project and we’re pleased with how the first few months of the program have gone,” said Alexis Woodrow, Lead Reduction Program manager for Denver Water.
With those factors in mind, neighborhoods that have homes slated for replacement work in 2020 include but are not limited to:
- Congress Park.
- City Park.
- East Colfax.
- Washington Park West/Speer.
In addition to the service lines replaced this year in these neighborhoods through the Lead Reduction Program, Denver Water’s crews also are continuing to replace lead lines throughout the utility’s service area as they’re found during regular construction and maintenance projects.
Homeowners who do not want to wait for the Lead Reduction Program may be eligible for partial reimbursement through Denver Water’s pilot lead service line replacement reimbursement program.
You can check Denver Water’s interactive map at denverwater.org/Lead to see if your home or business has or is suspected of having a lead service line.
Challenges from COVID-19
A few months after the start of the program in January, as city and state stay-home orders went into effect in late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Denver Water implemented new safety procedures to keep employees, customers and contract workers safe during service line replacement work. These measures included social distancing, wearing masks, flexible scheduling and hosting virtual meetings with homeowners and neighborhood groups.
“The public health concerns around COVID-19 complicated the service line replacement work,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/Manager of Denver Water. “But we knew the Lead Reduction Program was critical to the health and safety of our community, so we got creative in order to keep this important program moving forward safely and efficiently.”
During the spring stay-home orders in Colorado, pipe replacement crews focused on replacing service lines at schools and day care centers that were closed due to the pandemic. This allowed crews to take advantage of closures, as the replacement work requires water service to be turned off for a few hours while the old pipe is replaced.
Denver Water also used the time during the stay-home orders to gather consent forms from homeowners so that replacement work was able to move ahead quickly once conditions allowed.
Along with pipe replacement, the comprehensive Lead Reduction Program includes providing water pitchers and filters that are certified to remove lead. These are sent to customers who have a suspected lead service line, for their use until six months after the line is replaced.
As of June 30, Denver Water has delivered nearly 87,000 Brita Longlast pitcher/filter systems to people enrolled in the program. More than 100,000 pitchers and filters will be delivered throughout the Denver metro area by early September.
Another aspect of the program took place in March, when Denver Water increased the pH level of the water it delivers to customers. The higher pH provides an additional layer of protection because it strengthens an existing protective coating inside water pipes, reducing the risk of lead from getting into drinking water.
Community outreach is a critical part of the Lead Reduction Program. Throughout June and July, Denver Water hosted 10 virtual community meetings that drew more than 7,000 people. The presentations were available in English and Spanish.
The virtual meetings offered information and updates about the program and an opportunity for people to ask questions.
Additional meetings will take place through the year. Schedules for upcoming meetings, as well as recordings of past meetings, can be found under the “Community Partners and Events” tile at the program’s website, denverwater.org/Lead.