NM efforts to catalog lead water lines off to ‘slow start’

New Mexico lead water line cataloging
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  • Millions of federal dollars are available for New Mexico communities to replace lead and copper water pipes.
  • Communities must apply to receive a portion of the $28.6 million in funding.
  • So far, 10 communities have received funds to conduct surveys identifying the number of lead pipes in their systems.
  • Additional federal funds for lead pipe replacement may become available each year.
  • New Mexico communities have an October deadline to complete surveys that identify lead and galvanized pipes as part of new federal regulations.

May 9, 2024 — Millions in federal dollars are headed to 10 New Mexico communities to address lead and copper pipes in local water systems.

State finance officials said other municipalities need to act soon and apply to receive what’s left of the $28.6 million New Mexico received in its portion of the $3 billion from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“Things are off to a slow start,” said Michael Vonderheide, the director for Public Programs at the New Mexico Finance Authority, in regards to local water agencies applying for the funding.

Currently, the agency has approved $8.7 million for lead and copper water pipe surveys in places like Albuquerque, Farmington, Gallup and Doña Ana County. Smaller water associations in Leasburg, Garfield and La Union will also see this money fund their projects.

“Once they get to the fundable list, we move forward with them expeditiously at the Finance Authority,” Vonderheide said about his agency’s role in the process.

All 10 of the projects are surveys to identify how many lead lines a utility might have, he said, noting that larger water systems have larger survey costs.

The money, given by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is administered in part by both The New Mexico Environment Department and The New Mexico Finance Authority, as loans to water systems.

“The intent is to get all the lead service lines out of the ground, and reduce lead exposure, this $28.6 million is specifically for that,” said John Rhoderick, who leads the Water Protection Division at the New Mexico Environment Department.

To qualify for the funds, water systems need to complete a pre-application process with the New Mexico Environment Department, which includes collecting the supporting documents and the project’s ranking in a priority system.

Then, the New Mexico Finance Administration sends the money.

The water utilities are reimbursed for the costs as the project moves forward. Additional federal funds could be made available on a year-to-year basis.

Lead remains a big problem with a bigger cost.

Last year, the EPA estimatedOpens in a new tab. about 9 million lead service lines feed drinking water to communities around the nation, the first time it put a solid numberOpens in a new tab. to lead lines. The 2023 survey projected the cost of replacing those lines to be about $625 billion.

Congress allocated just 2% of that estimate – $15 billion for lead service line replacement – in the infrastructure bill.

In the survey, the EPA estimated New Mexico had about 15,400 lead service lines, less than 1% of the state’s pipes. It further estimated the cost for New Mexico’s pipe replacements would be $1.6 billion.

Lead and copper were common materials in household plumbing, but corrosion of the pipes or the solder joining in copper pipes could expose people to lead in their water – which is unsafe in any amount, especially for children, pregnant people, and the elderly.

Lead exposure poses a myriad of risks.

It can damage brains, kidneys and the nervous system, cause learning and behavioral problems, cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure, hypertension and reproductive issues, and increase miscarriage chances, according to the EPAOpens in a new tab..

The federal government banned the use of lead for plumbing in 1986Opens in a new tab., but many older homes and water systems still used lead pipes.

In a 2023 rule improvementOpens in a new tab., the federal government found that water system’s pipes are the biggest source of lead exposure in drinking water, and is requiring utilities to replace 100% of lead pipes within the next decade, amid other changes to strengthen protections against exposure.

New Mexico water systems are facing an autumn deadline this year to complete and return surveys of how many lead or galvanized pipes remain in their water systems as part of the federal rule changes in 2023Opens in a new tab..

“We haven’t gotten a lot of information back yet from communities, they have until October 16 of this year to provide us with those inventories,” Rhoderick said.

Rhoderick said it’s typical for water infrastructure needs to outstrip funding, but said the surveys are vital.

“$28 million is a good number, we need every dollar we can get,” Rhoderick said. “I don’t know at this point, neither does NMFA have any idea how that number compares to the need, because we’re trying to determine the need at this point.”

NM Water Systems that received funds.

  • Leasburg Mutual Domestic Water Consumer Association: $50,000
  • Farmington Water System: $3.7 million
  • Gallup Water System: $1 million
  • Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority: $1.1 million
  • Doña Ana Municipal Domestic Water Consumers Association: $1.6 million
  • Cedar Creek Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association: $85,000
  • Garfield Mutual Domestic Water Consumers and Sewage Works Association: $377, 657
  • La Union Mutual Domestic and Sewage Works Association: $135,000
  • Bernalillo Water Department: $250,000Alamogordo Water: $400,000

by Danielle Prokop, Source New MexicoOpens in a new tab.

May 7, 2024

Source New Mexico is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Source New Mexico maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Shaun Griswold for questions: info@sourcenm.com. Follow Source New Mexico on Facebook and Twitter.

Source New Mexico

Source New Mexico is an independent, nonprofit news organization that shines a light on governments, policies and public officials so you get the information you need to make choices — about yourself, your family, your neighborhoods and communities. Through a lens of public health and equity, we’ll bring you original news reporting along with analysis and opinion. We’re your source for unflinching coverage of COVID response and health care, access to education, tribal affairs, climate change and industrial regulation, police accountability, criminal legal reform, the impacts of immigration policies and more from across the region. Source NM is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. Source NM retains full editorial independence.

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