Only 48 of 3,200 water customers in River Forest have taken advantage of the village’s lead water service line replacement program since its creation in 2021.

Reflecting that lukewarm response, no member of the public spoke during a public hearing at the March 13 Village Board meeting that met an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) requirement. The public hearing one of several IEPA mandates requiring municipalities to start planning for lead service replacements in the coming years.

At the beginning of 2022, a new Illinois law – the Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act — went into effect, mandating that owners of any water supply must create an inventory of all lead service lines by 2023 and submit a preliminary plan in 2024 to the IEPA to replace all of them. The final replacement plan isn’t due in to the state until 2027 and municipalities will have a further 20 years to get all of those lead service lines replaced. 

As is common in municipalities throughout Illinois, water service lines leading to buildings in River Forest 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 Protection 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. 

Under the River Forest 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. 

Jeff Loster, director of public works and development services, said 25 water customers participated in the program in the first fiscal year, from May 1, 2021, to April 30, 2022, and 23 participated in the current fiscal year, from May 1, 2022, to this month. Total reimbursements were $117,500 in the first year and $146,275 in the current year.

Because village officials are anticipating a drop-off in interest after the initial program rollout, they are allocating only $50,000 in next year’s budget, according to Loster. 

“We continue to discuss allowances in excess of budgeted funds in an effort to allow as much participation as possible,” he added.

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