The illustration below lays out the public/private nature of the lead service line replacement mandate every community in the state faces following action by Illinois General Assembly, which became effective Jan. 1, 2022. Replacing lead water services in even small communities will cost tens of millions of dollars. | Christopher B. Burke Engineering, LTD.

Last year when Riverside officials first began discussing a new state mandate requiring all lead water service lines to be replaced over the next couple of decades, they felt confident that state grant funding or no-interest loans from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency would allow the village to cover the full cost.

Municipalities are only required to replace the public portion of water service lines – from the main to the B-box in the parkway. The line running from the B-box to the residential or commercial water meter is considered private property.

But due to the enormous cost to replace the lines – the village puts the figure at around $10,000 per line – officials were uneasy about asking homeowners to swallow half, or more, of that cost.

On Feb. 2, however, Public Works Director Dan Tabb broke the bad news to elected officials that it appears Riverside would not qualify for grants or no-interest loans for lead service line replacement.

With roughly 3,000 such lines needing replacement over time, that leaves Riverside facing a $30 million expense if the current policy to cover the entire cost continues.

And while the village doesn’t have to have all of its lead service lines replaced for more than 20 years, it’s a problem elected officials need to face now.

The village changed out four lead service lines due to emergencies in 2022, according to Tabb, and is in the process of changing out two more. However, the village is due to change out 51 lead water service lines as part of a water main replacement project on Shenstone Road this summer. The estimated total cost of replacing the “private” portion of those lines is about $460,000, according to Tabb.

Property owners can sign a waiver, which will be filed with the EPA, opting out of the lead service line replacement program. Many may do that due to the cost, if the village asks homeowners to pay for a portion or all of the cost, defeating the public health safety purpose of the new law. At the same time, the village doesn’t have $30 million sitting in a bank vault.

“The concern I have is that if we decide not to pay for it and too many people opt out  … has that devalued our housing stock,” said Trustee Edward Hannon during a discussion at the village board’s meeting. “

Last May, Brookfield officials raised water rates by 18.5 percent, and could increase them by more in the future as construction costs rise, to create a source of funding for lead service line replacement there.

That decision was made at least in part because officials there feared simply dropping a one-time huge expense on homeowners would cause them to opt out of the program.

Raising water rates is just one way for the village to fund the entire project, and at their meeting on Feb. 16 Riverside trustees are expected to begin mulling possible ways to find the revenue to fund lead service line replacement now that grants don’t appear to be coming the village’s way.

Other funding alternatives include issuing bonds and raising water rates to pay them off over a 10- to 20-year period or creating Special Service Areas where property owners will pay the cost over time as a line item on their property tax bills.

If the village asks the homeowner to pay for lead service line replacement it could set up a payment plan over a period of years to soften the financial blow. The village could, but is unlikely to, ask property owners to pay for the entire cost of the lead service line replacement from the water main to the meter. If the village went down a payment-path route, it would likely require property owners to pay for the “private” portion of the line.

Riverside Village President Joseph Ballerine signaled that it’s likely some sort of water rate increase to cover the cost of replacements or fund bonds to replace lead service lines for any reason, even emergencies.

“When it comes to those emergency repairs, we are all susceptible to that, because most of us live in houses that are considerably old,” Ballerine said. “It’s a $10,000 expense I know I have at my house sometime. If I had a $10,000 car would I spend $150 a year to ensure that if that car was damaged, it would be repaired or replaced. And the answer is yes. That’s an easy decision.”