On November 3, 2023, Chicago, Illinois‘ future got brighter when it was announced that a $336 million Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loan to the City of Chicago will replace up to 30,000 lead pipes that deliver water to homes across the city.
With lead poisoning being a leading cause of reduced mental development in children, this investment will improve health while creating an estimated 2700 jobs.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox announced this action, which marks a significant step toward replacing all lead service lines: a goal (long delayed by Republican obstruction in Congress) that is shared by the Biden Administration, the State of Illinois, and the City of Chicago.
“Whether you are a resident of Chicago or any city across this nation, no person should worry if their water is safe to drink or if it will harm their children. With EPA’s $336 million loan, the City of Chicago will replace up to 30,000 lead pipes so that more local residents can rest assured that their water is safe,” said Fox.
“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to removing all lead pipes across this country and EPA is using every tool available to address this public health issue. We are strengthening our regulations, investing in lead pipe replacement programs with $15 billion in dedicated funding under the President’s Investing in America agenda, and we are prioritizing lead pipe removal under this program,” she added.
This WIFIA loan was announced at a lead service line removal site in Chicago with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, and additional community leaders and stakeholders.
“Far too many generations have suffered the devastating effects of lead contamination, with its most tragic consequences visited upon our children,” said U.S. Senator Durbin. “The removal of lead pipes in Chicago is not just an investment in our infrastructure; it’s an investment in the future of our city, the well-being of our residents, and the foundation for a healthier, more equitable society.”
The City of Chicago will use the WIFIA loan to assist with replacing lead service lines serving single family homes and small multi-unit buildings citywide whenever there is a leak or break on a lead line or when performing water and sewer main updates.
“Every American deserves access to clean, safe, reliable water, but all too often, this neglect disproportionately affects underserved, underfunded communities and historically communities of color,” said Senator Duckworth.
“Making sure all families have access to clean water is important to me, it’s why I pushed to ensure my Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act was included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and why I’m committed to helping ensure Chicago and Illinois have the resources they need to achieve our goal of removing every lead pipe in America. I look forward to doing everything I can to support the city as we work aggressively to transform our bold vision into a new reality,” she continued.
Although Chicago’s water is in compliance with state and federal safety regulations, the City is committed to replacing all the legacy lead lines to help ensure that the water system is lead-free for generations to come.
“Clean drinking water is not a privilege; it is a right for every American,” said U.S. Representative Jonathan Jackson. “Today’s loan will help Black and Brown communities, which disproportionately live in areas with lead pipes. I am appreciative of the Biden-Harris Administration’s leadership on this issue, as well as the State of Illinois and City of Chicago’s work to enact this much-needed change.”
The WIFIA loan will be distributed over three years at $112 million a year. By offering the city flexible loan terms, the City of Chicago will be able to maintain affordable water rates while replacing lead service lines.
“As Governor of this great state, there is nothing more important than keeping Illinoisans safe and healthy—and that includes making sure that every family has access to clean drinking water,” said Illinois Governor JB Pritzker.
“Thanks to the Biden Administration’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, the City of Chicago will receive a $336 million loan to replace 30,000 lead pipes—an investment that won’t just deliver reliable, clean water to thousands of households, but will also create 2,700 jobs for our first-rate workforce,” he added.
Established by the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014, the WIFIA program is a federal loan program administered by EPA. The WIFIA program’s aim is to accelerate investment in the nation’s water infrastructure by providing long-term, low-cost supplemental credit assistance for regionally and nationally significant projects. The WIFIA program has an active pipeline of pending applications for projects that will result in billions of dollars in water infrastructure investment and thousands of jobs.
“It is the right of every resident of Chicago to have access to safe, clean drinking water,” said Mayor Johnson.
“Nine of the top 10 Chicago zip codes with the largest percentages of high lead levels were neighborhoods with majority Black and Latinx residents, so I am committed to prioritizing these communities along with our child care centers, and addressing this long-standing danger in an equitable and cost-effective manner. The City of Chicago applauds the Biden Administration’s historic federal investment in lead service line replacements and looks forward to a continued partnership to ensure a more permanent solution,” he concluded.
Chicago currently offers five replacement programs. The Equity Program replaces lead service lines for income-qualified residents; the Homeowner-Initiated Program waives up to $5,000 in permit fees; the Daycare Program replaces lines for licensed daycares; the Leaks and Breaks Program will replace lead lines whenever there is a leak or break on a resident’s line; and the Block-Long Program replaces lines when water or sewer mains are updated.
Photo of lead pipes courtesy of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.