The Bulletin Board

Replacing New Hampshire’s lead pipelines

By: - July 21, 2022 2:17 pm

Workers install a new water pipe in Oakland, California. U.S. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will replace all lead pipes and overhaul the nation’s water systems. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A federal Oct. 2024 deadline requires all water providers to inventory their service lines containing lead. But state officials worry that small water providers will struggle to meet the deadline and are requesting funding to complete inventories on their behalf.

That request will appear before lawmakers at the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee Friday, with the Department of Environmental Services requesting to use $4 million in federal relief to hire consultants who can locate lead pipelines in the state’s aging water systems.

“Without the inventories, water systems don’t know what to replace,” said Brandon Kernen, an administrator for the department’s Drinking Water and Groundwater Bureau.

Lead is harmful to human health but was commonly used in pipelines throughout the state and country prior to the 1970s, before its harmful effects on human health were widely understood. 

Among the state’s 1,200 water systems, there are hundreds of thousands of lead pipelines, according to Kernen. He said the state’s oldest systems are most likely to contain lead. Once the inventory is complete, the state can start planning to remove all those lines in an effort to prevent lead exposure in drinking water.

Federal money is available to fund that work; the Biden administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $28.5 million per year over the next five years to replace lead service lines. But water systems can’t apply for that money until they know which pipes they need to replace.

Kernen said the department’s $4 million request would target small water systems serving fewer than 1,500 people. There are around 850 water systems of this size in the state.  

“Asking those systems, which have very few staff or only part-time staff to go provide this assessment, which is not always straightforward to figure out if you have lead or not in the ground, and to do it in two years, it would probably take a lot of time and oversight by us,” he said.

Hiring the consultants will expedite the process, Kernen said, and allow water systems to start applying for federal funding to replace the lead pipelines sooner.

For water providers serving more than 1500 people, the department plans to announce a round of grants in September so they can complete the inventories themselves.

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s energy and environment reporter. She previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.

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