PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — One expert says it could cost as much as $225 million to replace the more than 35,000 lead water pipes remaining in Rhode Island.
Target 12 went to Smith Hill in Providence, a neighborhood Providence Water Supply Board maps show has many lead service lines, to ask residents if they were aware. No renters or homeowners Target 12 spoke to knew they had lead pipes.
“That’s crazy, we live here, we deserve to know,” said Javoun Hinson. “It’s our health.”
Hinson said he had never heard anyone talk about having lead pipes in the neighborhood, but he wasn’t surprised many homes there still had them.
“As you can see, it’s a poor neighborhood,” Hinson said.
The EPA outlawed using lead pipes for new construction in 1986. Lead service lines aren’t inherently dangerous, but corrosion can cause lead to seep into the water. The EPA states no amount of lead is safe in drinking water.
Lead can cause serious health problems, especially in children and pregnant women.
Providence Water serves serves more than 600,000 people in Providence, North Providence, Cranston, Johnston and North Smithfield. The water utility told Target 12 it has more than 9,000 public side lead water pipes, which extend from the street to the property boundary, and more than 24,000 private side lead service lines, which begin at the property boundary and extend to your home.
The federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — enacted in 2021 — requires water agencies across the country to create an inventory of their lead water pipes by October 2024, but some agencies in Rhode Island have yet to count them. It costs homeowners roughly $4,500 to replace their lead pipes.
“Nobody around here has the money to replace all their pipes,” one Smith Hill resident said. “$4,500 for me is devastating.”
Water testing data from Providence Water showed lead levels in some homes the agency tested exceeded the EPA’s accepted limit in 2018, 2019 and 2020, though levels dropped below the limit in 2021 and 2022.
The Infrastructure Law provides the state $141 million over five years to replace lead water pipes across the state. Of the more than $28 million beginning this year, 49% can be given away, while 51% has to be distributed through loans.
R.I. Infrastructure Bank president Jeff Diehl, who will oversee how the $141 million in federal dollars are distributed, told Target 12 all the loaned funding will be interest-free. He said he expects lead pipe replacement programs to begin this spring.
“This money is to be prioritized to lower and middle income,” Diehl said. “It is something I think we should be addressing aggressively as a state.”
The Infrastructure Bank is currently considering requests to replace lead pipes from many local communities, but here are the five biggest:
- Providence Water: $184 million
- Newport: $5.15 million
- Warwick: $2.5 million
- Pawtucket: $2 million
- Bristol: $1 million
Last year’s requests total more than $196 million.
“So the $141 million does not cover it all,” said Diehl, adding the total cost to replace all lead water pipes across the state could cost as much as $225 million.
“Again, that is just an estimate,” he said.