© 2023 Cincinnati Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Cincinnati will now pay entire cost of replacing privately-owned lead lines

Private water service lines could be made of three different materials depending on the age of plumbing fixtures: lead (left), copper (middle), or galvanized steel (right).
Greater Cincinnati Waterworks
Private water service lines could be made of three different materials depending on the age of plumbing fixtures: lead (left), copper (middle), or galvanized steel (right).

Cincinnati will start covering the entire cost of replacing residential lead services lines as soon as next month. Council approved the plan in a 8-0 vote Wednesday.

The city has nearly 40,000 private lead lines at risk of contaminating drinking water. A current city program will pay for up to half the cost of replacing lines on private property (40% for all residential property owners, and 45-50% for low-income property owners).

"We had a customer assistance program that would help people as well, which gave them some additional assistance," said Cathy Bailey, executive director of Greater Cincinnati Water Works. "But even with that we still heard from customers that said, 'I still can't afford it.' "

The new program will cover 100% of replacement costs for all residential property owners, regardless of income.

Ohio ranks second in the country for the number of lead service lines that need to be replaced, according to research from 2016. GCWW has been replacing about 800 private lead lines a year. New federal regulations will likely require the city to increase that to about 1,200 lines replaced each year, starting in 2024.

Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman says Bailey has been working on lead abatement for at least eight years.

"And this is before Flint, Michigan," Smitherman said. "All of this is happening at a time before we even really understood how important water was, how important our water system is in the city of Cincinnati, and our obligation with justice and equity, to make sure that every citizen in Cincinnati had the ability to live in a lead free environment."

The program is possible because of a rate increase: 3.75% starting in January, and an annual 5.55% increase for four years starting in 2023. Council approved the rate plan as part of the fiscal year 2022 budget.

Bailey says the rate increases are also needed to fund operating and capital needs, maintaining financial stability, and long-term plans for customer affordability.

Instructions on how to find out if you have lead service lines on your property are available online: https://la.mygcww.org/do-i-have-a-lead-service-line/

Updated: December 15, 2021 at 4:59 PM EST
This post was originally published December 13 and has been updated.
Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.