River Forest property owners who still have lead service lines gained an incentive to replace them when officials unanimously approved the creation of a lead service line replacement program at the May 24 village board meeting.

As is common in municipalities throughout Illinois, water service lines leading to buildings in the village constructed before 1986 are likely to feature lead. Because no safe blood level has been identified for young children, all sources of lead exposure for children should be controlled or eliminated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The U.S. Environmental Agency has set the maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water at zero because lead can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels. 

To encourage residents to eliminate lead service lines, the program offers property owners partial reimbursement for costs related to replacing them. John Anderson, public works director, said there are approximately 3,200 water customers in the village. 

Under the program, the village will provide reimbursement for the full amount of replacing the village-owned portion of the water service line up to $5,000 and 50 percent of the cost to replace the property owner’s portion up to $2,500. The village owns the water service lines from the water mains to the Buffalo boxes, and property owners own the water service lines from the Buffalo boxes to their buildings. 

To be eligible, property owners are required to use plumbing contractors who are licensed and bonded in the village and must submit a reimbursement request. Anderson said the village has budgeted $250,000 for the program this year. Assuming all requests for reimbursement would be for the full amount, that would allow 33 property owners to take advantage. Anderson said if the number of reimbursement requests exceed the amount budgeted, he would expect officials to re-evaluate “at that time.” However, he added, “This is a program we plan to continue.”

According to Anderson, Illinois officials are considering legislation that would require municipalities to have a plan in place for replacement of all lead service lines by April 15, 2027, with 14 years to complete. He added that grant money to support such programs could be available through the state.

In response to a question from Trustee Erika Bachner regarding the number of lead service lines in the village, Anderson also said the village’s planned automatic metering infrastructure project will allow staff members to update the inventory of water service pipe for all buildings throughout the village. The $1.32 million project will entail upgrading water meters throughout the village with state-of-art equipment that will allow the village to obtain meter readings without requiring public works staff members to perform a “drive-by” read, which is the current practice.

Lisa Scheiner, acting village administrator, said staff members will begin promoting the program this week.    

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