May 11, 2016

"But Madison’s response was like hitting a gnat with a sledgehammer. It was so aggressive..."

"... that only one other major municipality in the United States has followed its approach so far. It’s also why some people now call Madison the anti-Flint, a place where water problems linked to the toxic substance simply couldn’t happen today. Madison residents and businesses dug out and replaced their lead pipes — 8,000 of them. All because lead in their water had been measured at 16 parts per billion — one part per billion over the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard.... The Madison Water Utility dismissed the easy fix recommended by the EPA regulations, which entailed treating pipes with phosphates to lower corrosion that releases trace metals. The company instead ripped out every lead line it owned. Then it made some 5,500 of its customers do the same. Dozens of streets were torn up for a decade of digging and copper-pipe replacement at a cost of nearly $20 million. It was noisy, messy and disruptive, but successful...."

From "One city’s solution to drinking water contamination? Get rid of every lead pipe." in The Washington Post.

24 comments:

Hagar said...

Over the top sensationalist reporting.
(So, what else is new!)

What is needed is a general program similar to that which has been in place for more than fifty years to replace combined sewer systems, i.e., communities with known lead water service piping should be required to establish a board to identify the scope of the problem and organize a rational program to deal with it over a reasonable period of years.

It is a scandal though, that lead water service and building plumbing pipes are still in service. I have been involved in design and construction of public works projects since I graduated in 1960, and I had never heard of it until the Flint story broke. I thought lead water piping had gone out with the Roman empire, since even as I child, I had read speculation about the empire's fall perhaps being influenced by the Romans getting debilitated from their lead water pipes and dinner ware.
It has to have been well known in the water treatment business and deliberately kept quiet. (Somebody else's problem, not ours, so let's not look.)

David Begley said...

Easy to spend other people's money. The Madison Way.

Rick said...

When you're Panem, taxing the rest of the state to fund Madison's lifestyle, this sort of thing is possible. Rather than show embarrassment Madison will condescend to those they leech off.

Sebastian said...

What did the cost-benefit analysis show? They did a cost-benefit analysis ahead of time, didn't they? Didn't they?

Kevin Drum on Flint: "What happened in Flint was a horrible, inexcusable tragedy. Residents have every right to be furious with government at all levels. But the health effects are, in fact, pretty minimal." Any evidence that Madison risked worse health effects?

Hagar said...

Did the City of Madison indeed go off in panic mode? Or did the Public Works Dept. identify the problem areas and co-ordinate the water service replacement work with their other scheduled maintenance and improvements projects?
You will not know from the quoted article.

Mark said...

"taxing the rest of the state to fund Madison's lifestyle"

Where do you gather the rest of the state paid for it? As far as I remember, local homeowners got the bill.

Claiming they taxed the rest of the state for it is your bias showing, not fact.

David said...

Hagar said...

It is a scandal though, that lead water service and building plumbing pipes are still in service. I have been involved in design and construction of public works projects since I graduated in 1960, and I had never heard of it until the Flint story broke. I thought lead water piping had gone out with the Roman empire, since even as I child, I had read speculation about the empire's fall perhaps being influenced by the Romans getting debilitated from their lead water pipes and dinner ware.
It has to have been well known in the water treatment business and deliberately kept quiet.


I am the Board Chair of a not for profit corporation which provides sewer and water service to one of the fastest growing communities in the southeastern United States. The potential negative impact of lead pipes is indeed well known in the industry. It has been a long time since lead pipes were installed as part of its distribution piping but we have to assume they exist in older communities.. Lead was used in valves more recently but is no longer. Again, we assume the worst. Lead pipes do exist in older customer facilities but are hard to detect without expensive and physically disruptive inspections.

It is not true, however, that these issues have been "kept quiet." The treatment of the water with chemicals that create a barrier between the lead pipes and the water is a universal best practice. It is effective and reliable. Effectiveness is verified by regular tests of the water for lead content art the tap. This treatment is inexpensive. The chemicals used in the treatment have no adverse side effects.

The failure of Flint to implement this technique was a terrible blunder arising from astonishing negligence and incompetence. And unless there were other factors driving Madison's decision to replace all pipes, Madison's action was incompetence at a Flintian level. Madison wasted money rather than health and public confidence, but consider what that amount of money might have done for Madison's underperforming public schools.

Rick said...

Mark said...
Where do you gather the rest of the state paid for it? As far as I remember, local homeowners got the bill.


Who are those local homeowners? A very large percentage work for the University and other Wisconsin agencies. Aren't the taxes to fund those entities levied on everyone around the state? The Madison economy is heavily dependent on taxes from elsewhere.

Claiming they taxed the rest of the state for it is your bias showing, not fact.

No one claimed they paid for it directly, you just assumed it because it makes a rebuttal easy allowing you to never consider the impacts of your preferences. Which come to think of it describes pretty much every comment you make.

Hagar said...

@David,

I do not buy it. The only safe thing is to get rid of it. But there is no need to go off in panic mode. It can be done in an ordrly manner over time if the procedures you mention are stringently observed.
Which, having observed Federal, State, and local governments in action over these many years, I do not have much faith in.

David said...

Hagar said...
Did the City of Madison indeed go off in panic mode? Or did the Public Works Dept. identify the problem areas and co-ordinate the water service replacement work with their other scheduled maintenance and improvements projects?


The utilities rarely have reliable information about where (or if) there are lead pipes or valves in their distribution system. Thus they can't assume they "know" where "the problems" are. As a general rule you have to dig them up to find out. In our utility if we encounter a lead valve or pipe in the course of other work, we replace it even if it is otherwise functional.

The Madison utility does not get direct tax revenue. However, largely because of the size of its capital investments in recent years, it got a 9% rate increase in 2012 and applied for a 30% (!) increase in 2014. (These were the latest financial statements I could find in a quick search.) The utility also had to take out a large loan from the City of Madison to fund operations deficit. This shows that the capital spending is having a significant impact on customers. The need to borrow to cover operating deficits also bespeaks poor planning.

Madison draws most (all?) of it's water from the local groundwater aquifer. This not only depletes the aquifer, it imposes large capital and operating costs to treat the water because of the taste and odor issues that arise from the groundwater.

I am not saying that the Madison Utility is poorly run. You can't conclude that from a quick look at the financials. But the use of groundwater as the source is neither cutting edge Green nor financially efficient, given the amount of surface sources in the area. Sometimes Utilities are trapped by history. But one wonders why a regional system isn't being looked at. Madison has almost zero customer growth and that will hurt long run.

David said...

Hagar, you don't know the subject very well, and you are insensitive to the vast cost that would be incurred. A humane society does not throw maximum resources at every problem. Given the effectiveness of the chemical treatment of the water to prevent lead contamination, it's not just foolish to spend multiple billions to replace the water piping of the nation, it's immoral. If you are going to spend that kind of money, there are other more pressing needs. Just ask the parents of the black kids in the Madison and Milwaukee school systems. If you want to see who is getting screwed by incompetent governance, they should be at the top of the list.

David said...

David Begley said...
Easy to spend other people's money. The Madison Way.


It appears to me that they are spending their own money, via rate increases on the customers.

Hagar said...

Everything is subject to the Rumsfeld matrix.

But if you find a lead water service in a street, the PWD should have a map and a record of when and how that water main was laid, and it would be a reasonable assumption that the other services on that street also are lead. So that street gets circled for further attention and added to the lead pipe program list.

Rusty said...

Hagar said...
@David,

I do not buy it. The only safe thing is to get rid of it. But there is no need to go off in panic mode. It can be done in an ordrly manner over time if the procedures you mention are stringently observed.
Which, having observed Federal, State, and local governments in action over these many years, I do not have much faith in.

No. Remediation through chemicals injection is standard practice and works quite well. The lead pipes are usually replaced during normal maintenance which isn't as costly as ripping up the pavement block by block.

Curious George said...

"David said...
David Begley said...
Easy to spend other people's money. The Madison Way.

It appears to me that they are spending their own money, via rate increases on the customers."

LOL What?

Hagar said...

Quite right, I do not know the subject very well; my work goes up to the plant gates, but inside the fence it is specialty work.

However, I am quite conscious of the costs involved. That is why I say there must be a rational program to deal with it in those communities that have the problem. And all watermains and services will eventually get replaced as they deteriorate for one reason or another. The only things I know of that may be forever (in human terms anyway) is vitrified clay pipe sewers, and even those get too small and are replaced or bypassed for that reason.

Hagar said...

No, Rusty. The street pavement may be ripped up and replaced for street maintenance and no attention paid to the watermains underneath it unless there is a requirement to check for lead services.

This is a pervasive problem with public works departments. There is little or no coordination between the several subordinate departments.

I have heard there was a section of Menaul Blvd. here in River City that was successively repaved, then torn up for a water transmission main project and repaved, and then torn up and repaved for a storm drain poroject.
And then they replaced the City Engineer.

David Begley said...

Any competing water suppliers in Madison?

Of course not.

The Left wants to spend billions to clean that last 0.001% of the air and water. Because.

JAORE said...

"Cost benefit analysis? We don need no steenkin cost-benefit analysis".

Meanwhile, in Portland they drained a 38 MILLION gallon reservoir because a teenage boy allegedly urinated into the water.

It was the second time the administrator drained the reservoir for fear of urine.

mikee said...

Lead water pipes? Drive through any residential section built before 1975 or so, in any large urban area, and think about the tons upon tons of flaking, toxic lead paint in each and every building you pass. Yeah, those buildings where kids live from birth onward.

The lead toxicity level among inner city Baltimore youth, for example, has been a national health scandal for decades and just about every large city has similar problems. If you live in a house built before 1975 or so, get your lead level tested, and test your house for sources of lead leaching from old paint.

Darrell said...

We couldn't even measure parts per billion until the 1980s. Almost anything can be found when your test is so sensitive. Even all those nasty things. The oceans contain everything that can leach out of the Earth's crust, at ppb. Somebody should do something!

John said...

Like Hagar, I have been involved in plumbing and piping of all sorts of stuff since 1965. I had never heard of lead pipe being in use, other than perhaps in some specialty chemical applications, in all that time. The only thing I knew about lead pipe was that people and journalists often talk of someone getting hit with a lead pipe.

Do you know how hard it is to buy lead pipe and fittings? I once looked a couple years ago and found only a couple of specialty pipe supply houses that sold it. In all the US.

Color me surprised that it is as common as it now seems to be.

John Henry

Fritz said...

As a one time trace metal chemist I knew the reporter didn't know what he was talking about from the third and fourth paragraphs:

"Madison residents and businesses dug out and replaced their lead pipes — 8,000 of them. All because lead in their water had been measured at 16 parts per billion — one part per billion over the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard.

That’s a microliter, one-millionth of a liter of water. The utility’s water quality manager, Joe Grande, explains the reasoning in seven words: “The safe level of lead is zero.”"


The "microliter" as no business being in the sentence. I assume he scrambled micrograms per liter, which are one of the set of units for parts per billion. From that point on you might as well assume he scrambled the parts you didn't know about as badly.

I also take issue with the Madison official saying "the safe level of lead is zero". There are no zero's, there are just amounts you can't measure yet. We can measure lead pretty easily into the single parts per trillion realm. By that standard, there is no safe water anywhere.

I am also an member of the local water board for a small community water system (800 homes). Even though we have houses and water lines which date to the 1930s, we have no lead supply lines, and have never had a "hit" on our routine lead testing. Arsenic, on the other hand, but that's a story for a different topic.

Jason said...

Happens all the time. Democrats look at public utilities as a jobs program for union workers. In return, unions donate to favored campaigns in an an obnoxious kickback system. ESPECIALLY in Madison.