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How Citizens is finding and replacing lead service lines

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Citizens Energy Group has received approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to implement a multiyear program to replace lead service lines throughout Indianapolis. Now that it has approval, the process to find and replace lead service lines begins.

Citizens has no active lead water mains; however, homes and businesses connected to the water system before the 1950s may have lead pipes that connect the water mains, called lead service lines. The Lead Service Line Replacement Program is designed to replace those pipes for approximately 55,000 to 75,000 homes and businesses. It’s good to be cautious, but there is no need to resort to extreme measures, said Indra Frank, environmental health director for the Hoosier Environmental Council. Drinking water can often pass through pipes without picking up lead, and coupled with regular testing and treatment by Citizens, there’s not a huge need to worry.

“It’s OK to use it to wash your clothes,” Frank said. “It’s OK to shower in low levels of lead.”

Running water in the mornings and not letting water sit in the pipes for too long is another way for people to avoid lead in their drinking water, Frank said.

“It’s going to be a while to get around to getting them replaced,” she said. “I can avoid that lead as long as I’m not drinking or eating food cooked with it for a long time.”

Research is the main component of locating lead service lines. There are some records of lead service lines based on when they were first installed, some years better kept than others, that can positively identify or at least give them an idea of where service lines may be located, said Dan Moran, director of water, quality system control and planning at Citizens. Knowing when housing was built in different parts of the city can give them an idea as well.

“We do know a lot about the areas that they could be found because of the age of the homes and the years of the mains,” Moran said. “So we’ve got a pretty good idea of where we’re going to find these; plus we’ve got a lot of history of people working on repairs.”

When it comes to a house-by-house basis, it gets a little trickier to find them, Moran said. One of the first things they will do is an individual house verification. One important step to the process is homeowners signing the right-of-entry agreement, which allows Citizens to do inspections and potholing, said Laura O’Brien, manager of corporate and public affairs for Citizens.

Potholing is the process of vacuuming a hole through the ground to a lead service line to visually verify what the pipe is made of, Moran said. If confirmed, it would get replaced. Plastic and copper lines would be noted, if they’re not already, but not replaced.

Construction practices and developments can create a framework to help inventory lead pipes — if a housing development was built around the same time and some houses have confirmed lead pipes, it’s likely other houses with unknown statuses will have them, too, Moran said.

Citizens has different components to integrate the program into existing construction and improvement programs, identifying areas based on health risks, economic impacts, and utility data, and two options for property owner-initiated replacements.

Customers identified in proactive areas will have their service replaced free of charge. Customers who aren’t identified in proactive areas — areas that will be prioritized based on risk factors — but still wish to replace their lead service lines have two options, including Citizens funding the replacement in the public right-of-way and the property owner funding the replacement on the private portion. Customers can contact Citizens for a direct quote or contact their own contractor to replace service lines on their property.

Citizens will need to produce a service line inventory by 2024 to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Contact staff writer Jayden Kennett 317-762-7847 or by email JaydenK@IndyRecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @JournoJay.

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