Elgin may kill $1,000 water testing requirement for lead pipe program
The city of Elgin is considering doing away with a new requirement that some property owners pay $1,000 in water testing if they fall under the city's new lead water service pipe replacement program.
If the city provides faucet-mounted filters and cartridges for two years so residents can use filtered water for drinking and cooking, that would seem enough to ensure their health and safety, several city council members ventured Wednesday.
"Maybe the pendulum swung too far in one direction," Councilman Toby Shaw said about the city's efforts to ensure public health while imposing costs on residents.
No decision was made Wednesday. City staff members will draft ordinance amendments expected to be discussed Feb. 27.
At an informational meeting last week, residents complained about the costs of the lead pipe replacement program. The first to be affected are property owners along Chicago Street and a portion of Geneva Street, which will undergo reconstruction starting in spring.
The program, as currently spelled out in an ordinance approved in December, requires that when the city does underground construction work, property owners replace lead pipes on their properties -- up to an estimated $4,800 in most cases -- or sign a waiver and commit to drinking bottled or filtered water for two years, plus pay for an estimated $1,000 for five tests over two years.
The city treats its water so it's safe to drink even with lead pipes, but construction work can loosen particles that contaminate the water for a period generally estimated at 18 months, city officials said. Everyone will get water filters when the work starts.
Assistant City Manager Laura Valdez said that, after further discussion with Water Director Eric Weiss, the city believes that providing water filters and replacement cartridges for a total of two years would be a "very safe alternative" to mandating testing if residents choose not to replace their lead pipes. Weiss said the city already purchased 360 faucet-mounted filters, which cost $16.74 each.
Councilmen John Steffen and Terry Gavin agreed testing seems unnecessary if the city provides filters for two years. Steffen said he also wants the opinion of Dr. Dorothea Poulos, chairwoman of the city's board of health.
Councilwoman Tish Powell suggested allowing property owners to opt in for voluntary water testing. Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger said she hopes most landlords will opt in.
Councilman Corey Dixon suggested providing filters for longer than two years.
The lead pipe replacement program was enacted at the advice of City Manager Rick Kozal in response to directives from the Illinois Department of Public Health and possible legislation coming from Springfield regarding lead pipes. The city also didn't want to lose $2.5 million in federal grant money.