D.C. Water and Sewer Authority officials announced yesterday that they will replace 2,800 lead service pipes over the next year in a program aimed at reducing the risk of lead contamination in drinking water.
The program is part of WASA's plan to replace all the city's estimated 23,000 lead pipes by 2010 at a cost of $300 million. The agency's Board of Directors mandated the plan after tests showed that thousands of District homes had water with lead levels above the federal safety limit.
WASA officials said lead levels have not been reduced even though officials at the Washington Aqueduct added a chemical called orthophosphate to the distribution system in August. Water quality experts have said they expected the chemical to put a protective coating on the lead pipes that would prevent leeching. But the process could take as long as a year, WASA officials reiterated yesterday.
Johnson, however, said that bacteria, which were discovered in excessive levels shortly after the orthophosphate was added, have receded below federal standards. Those bacteria were not considered health-threatening.
The number of pipes that will be replaced in the next year represents a significant ramping-up of WASA's replacement program. Under the federal Lead and Copper Rule, the agency was told by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to replace about 1,400 service lines per year after the contamination was discovered.
During the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, WASA officials said the agency replaced 1,793 lead lines. This year, two contractors will be added to help complete the increased work, Johnson said.
"We're trying to move at a more rapid pace," he said.
WASA will conduct work on blocks where many houses have lead lines, as well as at individual homes that have the highest lead levels. The agency will work with the District's Department of Transportation to try to minimize the disruption on streets and sidewalks, Johnson said.
WASA contractors will replace portions of the lead pipes that run from the water main in the street to the property line. Homeowners are responsible for deciding whether to replace the line into the residence.
Residents who wish to replace that portion of the pipes can request that WASA contractors do the job at the cost of $100 per linear foot and an extra $500 to run pipe through the wall into the home. Information packets are being mailed to the 2,800 residences scheduled for lead pipe replacements in the coming year. Additional information can be found on the agency's Web site: www.dcwasa.com.
Paul Schwartz, policy coordinator for Clean Water Action, said yesterday he hopes homeowners will choose to replace the private portions of their service pipes. Research has found that if only a part of the piping is replaced, lead levels can rise because cutting the pipes dislodges sediments.
Johnson said that only 14 residents had the pipes on their properties replaced from January through September. But interest is increasing: 19 people paid WASA to replace the pipes on their properties last month, he said.
WASA has set up a low-interest loan program through Wachovia Bank to help residents pay for the replacement of pipes in private space. Low-income residents can apply for a grant from the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development.
The cost of replacing pipes in public space will be borne by ratepayers. Johnson plans to seek approval from the WASA board for a 5 percent rate increase this year, the same rate as last year. If approved, the increase would add slightly more than $22 annually to the average residential water bill.
Johnson added that WASA had $6 million in excess revenue last fiscal year. He said that money has been put into a rate stabilization fund that will be used to minimize rate increases in future years.
WASA also intends to renew its revolving six-month contract with health experts from George Washington University, Johnson said. Tee L. Guidotti, a physician and chairman of the university's Environmental and Occupational Health Department, heads the six-member team that was hired in April to give WASA advice on health and crisis communication issues.