No one in their right mind would consider using lead – of all materials – to deliver drinking water from municipal water mains to residences. Oh, sure, they figured out you can coat the lead pipes with phosphates to make the water safer to drink, but with what we have known for decades about the effects of lead poisoning, it’s kind of incredible that only now is the state mandating we dig up all the old lead residential water service lines and replace them.

Well, it’s not so incredible it’s taken that long, because doing so is going to cost millions and millions and millions of dollars. And although the state mandate for replacing lead service lines went into effect Jan. 1, it turns out municipalities have until about 2047 to finish the job, such is its scope.

But if you own a property in Brookfield, Riverside or North Riverside, sooner or later you’re going to be notified that it’s time to change out the lead water service, that it’s going to be expensive and that you’re likely to be on the hook for at least part of the cost.

Leaders in both Riverside and Brookfield have started to crunch the numbers and are beginning to formulate a strategy for funding the years’ long project. They’ve been informed that they’ll be eligible to apply for forgivable low-interest loans of up to $4 million per year to help fund lead service line replacement.

That sounds like a free-lunch coupon, but don’t get too excited. Every water system operator in the state will be lining up for a piece of that action, so we wouldn’t count on those loans as a predictable source of annual funding.

However, we do think municipalities will be able to access some funding through the low-interest loan program being made available by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. 

And what we’d like to see villages try to come up with is some sort of reimbursement program residents can apply for.

Even if it isn’t for the entire cost of replacing the “private” portion of the service line, which is from the Buffalo box in the parkway to the water meter, every bit helps ease the financial burden.

Even with a reimbursement program in place, perhaps local governments could establish a payment plan so homeowners aren’t hit all at once with an expense that will run in the thousands.

Another way to approach the private expense is to build it into water rates. That also won’t be popular, especially in Brookfield where homeowners were just socked with an 18.5-percent water rate increase to replace the village’s oldest water mains. But it may be more palatable than having to pay such a large expense all at once.

Short of forgivable IEPA loans covering the whole expense, which is unlikely, homeowners are going to have to bite the bullet in some form or another.

It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of the cost for having a safe, reliable water system.