In 2021, the White House introduced the Biden-Harris Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan, which promises to replace all lead service lines in America over the next decade. The White House dubbed the plan “game-changing” and anticipates that it will put “pipefitters to work replacing all of America’s lead pipes and service lines.”
Lead Pipe Replacement Under the IIJA and DWSRF
Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its Strategy to Reduce Lead Exposures and Disparities in U.S. Communities (Lead Strategy), advancing the Administration’s commitment to replacing lead pipes. The plans outlined in the Lead Strategy are supported by the investments under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This includes $15 billion allotted to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The infrastructure law specifically states that the additional funding must be directed towards efforts to replace lead pipes and service lines from soil and contaminated sites. Under the DWSRF, Congress appropriates funding, and the EPA then awards capitalization grants to each state for their DWSRF based upon the results of a survey. The state is required to provide a 20% match to federal funds. State agencies then distribute federal funds to public water systems in accordance with their own policies. Under the program, grants or reduced-interest loans are awarded to public water systems who then use the funding to pay for projects to improve water systems within their jurisdiction.
Rapid Progress Towards Lead Pipe Replacement
In a major step towards the Lead Strategy’s goal of achieving lead-free water systems, the EPA recently announced the Lead Service Line Replacement Accelerators Initiative. Through the initiative, the EPA will partner with four states—Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—to identify and replace lead service lines. The partnership will reach 40 underserved communities across the four states to provide guidance and support the process of lead service line removals. This will include conducting inventories to identify lead pipes, developing lead service line replacement plans, and assisting the communities in accessing DWSRF funding. The partnerships are launching this year, and the EPA anticipates completion of the lead line inventory by 2024.
Along with the concerted efforts within these communities, we expect to see an increasing number of lead pipe replacement projects across the country. In addition to the DWSRF, funding is available through the Water Infrastructure and Innovations Act of 2014 (WIFIA), which provides loans to governmental and private entities through a competitive process, and the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN Act), which includes several non-competitive drinking water grants available to small, underserved and disadvantaged communities.
On February 3, 2023, the EPA announced a $340 million commitment in WIFIA financing to the city of Philadelphia. The initial $19.8 million loan will modernize the city’s drinking water system by replacing approximately 160 lead service pipes—13 miles of water mains—throughout the city. Last year, the EPA announced $6.5 billion in total funding under WIFIA and projected that this funding would support $13 billion in water infrastructure projects and create more than 40,000 jobs. The agency is currently accepting letters of interest for WIFIA loans.
Understanding New Requirements and Opportunities
It is crucial for those local governments and members of the water and pipe industry poised to take advantage of these new programs to have a thorough understanding of grant application processes, federal and state administrative procedures, water development planning processes and other related points. Industry members that can provide capabilities to states and communities to replace lead pipes will want to engage with federal bureaucratic decisionmakers, state administrative agencies and local government stakeholders sooner rather than later to capitalize on the funding opportunities presented by this federal investment. Pillsbury’s top-rated public policy, environmental, and state and local government strategies teams are working together with stakeholders and federal agency contacts to prepare for these historic investments.