Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson wants to replace lead service lines in 20 years; here's how that would work

NOW: Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson wants to replace lead service lines in 20 years; here’s how that would work

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- During his 2023 State of the City speech, Mayor Cavalier Johnson announced a goal for Milwaukee to replace all lead laterals within 20 years, about a third of the time the project was originally expected to take.

The city has replaced about 6,000 lead service lines in six years and is projected to replace about 1,200 by the end of 2023.

There remain about 65,000 lead services in the city system.

The city's original projection for replacing the more than 70,000 lead laterals Milwaukee had was about 65 to 70 years.

"President Joe Biden's [Environmental Protection Agency] is allocating billions of dollars for local governments to replace lead pipes and Milwaukee is well positioned to tap into these resources," Johnson said during the speech at the BMO Pavilion at Henry Meier Festival Park. "Working with our state partners, local contractors, advocates and homeowners, we can replace all of Milwaukee's lead service lines much faster than was initially laid out."

In order to achieve the goal of replacing the remaining lead service lines in 20 years, Milwaukee Water Works said the city will need to work towards replacing about 3,200 lines a year for 20 years.

The first step to accelerate the program will come in 2024, when the city aims to replace an additional 500 lines over what it does now.

"This is going to be an incremental expansion," Milwaukee Water Works Superintendent Patrick Pauly told CBS 58. "Certainly we can't go from 900 services a year to well over 3,000 in just one construction season, but we intend to build the foundation at the end of this year to expand that program in 2024, and hopefully that allows us for future expansion in future years."

The city hopes to tap into federal funding that will be reallocated in the future to help pay for the accelerated program.

But beyond funding, there will be other challenges the city will face.

"There's some internal workforce increases that need to be made," Pauly explained. "The contracting community will need to expand their workforce in order to ramp up to this level of replacement, and then there's probably some other hurdles along the way that are a little unforeseen at this point."

Pauly reflected on how far the program has come and where it hopes to go.

"Our hope is that work establishing the program over the last six years and building this foundation and learning about the best way about how to go about replacing lead services can be very beneficial to us to expand this program moving forward."

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