Amsterdam to replace lead service lines carrying water to 45 homes

Amsterdam water treatment sign

AMSTERDAM — Lead service lines carrying water to 45 homes in Amsterdam will be replaced this year through a grant-funded project undertaken by the city.

The Common Council on Tuesday awarded the project to the lowest qualified bidder, Pareene Contracting, for $488,400. The city previously received a $521,785 grant to fully fund the work through the state Department of Health’s Lead Service Line Replacement Program.

“There would be no way we could do this and everything else we need to do to provide safe drinking water without this assistance,” Mayor Michael Cinquanti said.

Work, expected to get underway in July, will replace lead service lines running from the water main at the street to homes, including laterals normally the responsibility of property owners.

“A condition of the grant was that it needs to be a complete replacement all the way in,” City Engineer Mike Clark said.

The city reached out to the nearly 200 homeowners known to have lead service lines to identify residents interested in participating. Properties were added to the list in the order in which responses were received. Homes of all 45 initial respondents will have their lead service lines replaced for expected completion in the fall.

“Not everybody responded, surprisingly,” Clark said. “We were able to do all the services of the folks that actually responded. It would leave us a little contingency for unforeseen conditions during the project.”

Since the project was sent out to bid, Clark said the city has received calls from homeowners expressing delayed interest. The existing grant is insufficient to add properties to this project, but the city must compile a complete inventory of homes with lead service lines and would likely seek state or federal funding, if available in the future, for further projects.

“People that may not have been tuned in before are now paying attention and want it done. The problem is that $500,000 from the Department of Health grant is nice, it’s good, we’re certainly taking advantage of it, but it’s a drop in the bucket to what it would cost to replace every possible lead line,” Clark said.

The exact number of lead service lines running to the roughly 5,100 residences in the city is unknown. Clark suggested such materials may be found at several hundred properties, mostly homes built before World War II in which upgrades have not since been performed to replace the lines.

“Typically, older homes in our city that have not undergone renovations are occupied by folks who don’t have the means to invest in this type of improvement or renovation,” Cinquanti said. “It’s great this money is available, because there are people who typically live in a home with a lead line that would not be able to afford it otherwise.”

Amsterdam and communities across the country will be required to inventory all properties with lead or copper service lines by October 2024 under updates to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Primary Drinking Water Regulation through the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“I think many communities are going to have difficulty meeting that deadline,” Clark said. “It is a heavy lift to complete that inventory. At this point, we are probably 20% through it.”

City code enforcers, Department of Public Works crews and water treatment staff entering residential basements during the course of work already make note of any homes with lead or copper service lines. Water treatment staff also field requests from residents to verify the materials of lines carrying water into their homes.

“There is certainly more lead out in the system,” said Randy Gardinier, water treatment plant chief operator. “If people aren’t sure and want to have a lead line identified, they can get in touch with us.”

The city will likely launch a public-outreach campaign in the future to identify all homes with lead or copper service lines, possibly by requesting photo submissions or other means of evaluation.

Once identified, Gardinier said these homeowners can have their properties added to the list for future replacement projects if funding is secured. They can also be part of regular drinking water quality testing performed in the city when it resumes after a $1.32 million corrosion control project is completed at the treatment plant around July.

That project is being paid for with an $898,000 grant from the state Office of Homes and Community Renewal and a portion of the city’s federal coronavirus relief aid. Work, started last year, involves upgrades to chlorination equipment, replacement of hydrated lime with soda ash as a water treatment material and other updates to the corrosion inhibiting chemicals the plant uses.

Updated treatment techniques will improve the alkalinity of the city water supply or its ability to resist acidity for a more stable pH level that is less corrosive. Reducing the corrosiveness of the water supply will help prevent lead from leaching out of pipes made from the material.

Plant upgrades follow a pair of water quality violations in the city issued by the EPA in 2018. Lead levels were detected in separate samples at 16 parts per billion in the spring and 21 parts per billion in the fall. The maximum allowed level for lead content is not to exceed 15 parts per billion. Regular testing was suspended until the city addressed known corrosion issues.

After work at the plant is complete, Gardinier said the city will begin sampling water from 60 homes known to have lead or copper service lines or plumbing to ensure the content is not leaching into the water supply due to corrosion every six months.

“That’s where we need to test from, because that will give you kind of a worst-case scenario,” Gardinier said.

The presence of lead pipes at homes does not necessarily mean the material is entering their water supply. Gardinier said only two samples tested above allowable levels out of the many collected at homes with lead fixtures in 2018.

“Once everything is fully functional, we’ll be working with the state to resume lead and copper testing. Certainly if people have lead service lines, and they’re interested in being a part of our testing program, we would be happy to have them,” Gardinier said. “A lot of time it’s peace of mind.”

Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.

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