Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan Jr. is pushing for the replacement of lead pipes connected to property owners’ water meters known as “laterals” with two new proposals, put forward during the Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee meeting last Wednesday. “It’s about time the local government took action to address the lead crisis in our community,” he declared.
The committee voted unanimously to approve Supervisor Weishan’s resolution, authorizing a $550,000 loan program to any Milwaukee County resident, regardless of income, for lead removal. It also requires that lead remediation become a condition for the sale of county-acquired tax-foreclosed properties.
A second resolution, also proposed by Weishan, requests a full assessment of the extent of lead pipelines, service laterals, lead paint, and similar products across county facilities. It also seeks to establish protocols for testing lead in county facilities. The resolution, which passed, calls for a report “regarding the efforts made to protect county staff and the public from potential lead contamination in County facilities.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree that no level of lead contamination is safe. Milwaukee, Racine, and Watertown were among the top 10 jurisdictions with the highest rates of lead poisoning, according to a 2016 report by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. This is largely due to a high number of old housing units in these areas.
Gov. Tony Evers declared 2019 the “year of clean drinking water” in Wisconsin after taking office. More than 200,000 lead service lines are scattered across the Badger State, with some 77,000 in Milwaukee. Lead lateral removal became a key issue in the budget battle, during which Republicans struck down a proposed $40 million to address the issue statewide. Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), and others, argued that it wasn’t a fair proposal for taxpayers because too much funding would go to Milwaukee.
“I’ve been urging action on lead remediation for years, but my appeals seem to have fallen on deaf ears,” Supervisor Weishan said in the committee meeting. “With this proposal, we’re putting real money towards the problem so homeowners can replace the lead laterals to their homes.”