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Draft Wisconsin Legislation Would Allow Water Public Utilities to Provide Financial Assistance to Replace Lead-Containing Service Lines

Environmental Law Alert George J. Marek, Allison M. Buchanan, Bridgette Keating

As has been highly publicized, the City of Flint, Michigan, has been struggling for the past three years with a crisis over elevated lead in its drinking water. As a result of Flint's water quality safety issues, government agencies across the country are focusing more on the risk of lead in public water supplies. Even when the public water supply is considered safe for lead under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, however, private plumbing fixtures in businesses and homes may be a source of elevated lead in drinking water. For example, lead can be found in pipes that connect businesses and homes to the municipal water supply.

Against this backdrop, the State of Wisconsin legislature is proposing a bill that would help pay for the replacement of privately owned service pipes that connect individual water users to the public water supply. Specifically, 2017 Senate Bill 48 is currently being considered by the State of Wisconsin legislature. This bill would allow water public utilities to establish financial assistance programs for its customers in the form of loans, grants, or a combination of the two, to help customers pay for the cost of replacing lead-containing service lines. Such financial assistance would be allowed only if the municipality in which the utility operates has enacted an ordinance that permits the water public utility to provide financial assistance. 

The proposed legislation recognizes that replacing lead-containing private infrastructure cannot alone alleviate the risk for lead in drinking water. Therefore, the proposed legislation would apply only if: (1) the portion of the service line for which the utility is responsible and the water main that are connected to the customer’s service line do not contain lead; or (2) the utility's lead-containing service line and water main are replaced with lead-free piping at the same time that the customer’s service line is replaced.

The draft legislative language would require that the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) must first approve any such local financial assistance program before it can be implemented. If approved, the PSC would then include the cost of providing that financial assistance in determining the water rates for the water public utility.

The original 2017 Senate Bill 48 can be seen here and language of Senate Substitute Amendment to Senate Bill 48 can be seen here.

If you would like to comment on the draft legislation, a list of the Wisconsin legislators involved in drafting the Bill can be found in the link to 2017 Senate Bill 48.

Please contact George Marek at (414) 277-5537/[email protected], Allison Buchanan at (414) 277-5641/[email protected], Bridgette Keating at (414) 277-5790/[email protected], or your Quarles & Brady attorney if you have any questions.

Finally, if you have matters before the PSC—including in the event that this legislation is enacted and you wish to participate in the financial assistance program—please contact your Wisconsin Quarles & Brady attorneys.