Utility will charge Valley customers to replace lead pipes
Is a lead pipe bringing water into your home?
If you are a Pennsylvania American Water Co. customer, you could be eligible for a replacement line.
State regulators voted 4-0 on Thursday in Harrisburg to let the utility, which sells water in Northampton and Monroe counties, spend about $6 million per year to replace customers’ lead service lines.
The utility will recover the cost with a monthly 10-cent surcharge on every customer’s bill.
The lead-pipe surcharge comes on top of a nearly 10% rate increase the utility received in late 2017 that generated $62 million statewide.
The Public Utility Commission said customers’ lines would remain their responsibility, and they would have to approve plans by Pennsylvania American to replace the lines. The utility estimates 18,000 of its 656,000 customers have lead pipes connecting their houses to water mains.
Lead pipes have been linked to elevated levels of the metal in drinking water. Utilities and regulators have been addressing such concerns since the public-health crisis in Flint, Michigan, and elsewhere, most recently Newark,
Pennsylvania American has said it will replace lead lines it encounters when it replaces water mains. It will also swap lines at a customer’s request, though it wants to group requests so it can complete them as a single project. The utility says it costs about $3,500 to replace a single lateral line.
Company spokeswoman Laura Martin said Pennsylvania American is working on final development of the replacement program and will notify customers in early 2020 before it begins charging them.
“Pennsylvania American Water believes that replacing the customerowned portions of lead service lines through this program is a reasonable, cost-effective way to avoiding customer health and safety concerns associated with partial lead service line replacements,” Martin said.
The PUC said Pennsylvania American will:
Provide a two-year warranty on replacement work.
Reimburse customers who recently switched lead-based pipes.
Engage in “appropriate customer outreach” about the replacement program, and grant an unspecified assistance to qualified, low-income customers.
If a customer doesn’t agree to the replacement, the utility will replace its portion of the lead-based pipe.
Pennsylvania American proposed in 2017 to spread out the line-replacement cost. But a decision was postponed, and Thursday’s PUC move followed a 2018 state law that requires utilities to accelerate the replacement of old water and wastewater pipes that could lead to public health risks.
A subsidiary of publicly owned American Water Works, Pennsylvania American serves 13,500 customers in 15 Northampton County communities and two southern Monroe County townships, Hamilton and Ross. Its Pennsylvania service territory covers portions of 36 counties.
Morning Call reporter Anthony Salamone can be reached at 610-820-6694 or asalam[email protected]
Pennsylvania American Water has won state approval to replace customer-owned lead pipes at $6 million per year.