Ken Bober has lived in the same home in Riverside for the past 49 years. So when he received a notice in the mail recently alerting him to the fact that water is delivered to his residence via a lead service line – and provided instructions on how to “minimize the level of lead” in that water – he was a little alarmed.

“I’ve lived in this house since 1974, and I don’t recall Riverside making an issue of this in all the time I’ve lived here,” Bober told the Landmark. “And this came out of the blue.”

He was also struggling to understand the timing of the notice, which arrived shortly before an email from the village informing him that water rates were increasing by another 14.24%.

One of the ways residents can reduce the risk of lead in their water, the village’s notice states, is to “run the water for three to five minutes to clear most of the lead from the water.”

“It’s poor timing to raise rates when at the same time they’re telling you to run more water,” Bober said.

The June 1 water rate hike comes on the heels of two increases in 2022 that raised water rates nearly 20%. 

Under the new rate structure, the minimum annual water bill (based on five units, or 100 cubic feet, of water) in Riverside will increase from $495 to $554.71, while the average annual bill (11 units) will rise from $1,089 to $1,220.37.

Every water customer in Riverside should have received notice of the rate increase, and Bober isn’t alone in getting the lead service line notice in the mail. As a matter of fact, a good many residents have been receiving identical notices. 

According to Riverside Public Works Director Dan Tabb, the notices are part of a larger effort to identify which residences are served by lead water service lines as the village prepares a plan to replace them.

The increase in water rates effective June 1 is also tied into the lead service line replacement project, which will play out over years.

On Jan. 1, 2022, a new state law went into effect which requires all lead water service lines in Illinois to be replaced according to a prescribed timeline based on the number of lead water lines in any given municipality.

The law requires municipalities to submit an initial lead service line inventory to the state by April 15, 2024 and to submit a final replacement plan, including a replacement schedule and details on costs and financing by April 15, 2027.

According to Tabb, the lead service line notice Bober and others have received is required by state law when a municipality verifies a property is served by a lead water service line.

The village has been compiling its lead service line inventory in a number of ways, said Tabb, including “compliance inspections, high water bill investigations and water meter replacements.”

As for the language regarding ways to reduce lead, “The notification contains standard language on how to minimize lead in the drinking water,” Tabb said.

According to the village of Riverside’s 2022 water quality report, which was published earlier this month, the village water supply “meets or exceeds all federal and state standards for drinking water.”

Communities with an inventory of between 1,200 and 4,999 lead service lines, like Riverside, must replace them at a rate of not less than 6% annually for up to 17 years.

While the village has not yet worked out a replacement schedule, officials know that they must already plan to immediately replace lines. 

This summer, Riverside is scheduled to replace a water main along Shenstone Road. Part of that work will be replacing 51 lead water service lines that connect the main with homes.

The cost to replace each line varies, ranging from between $7,500 to more than $12,000 from main to meter, according to Tabb. Using $10,000 as a ballpark figure, that means it will take around $30 million to replace all of Riverside’s lead water service lines.

Riverside officials could have required individual property owners to come up with the “private” portion of the line replacement – the section from the B-box to the water meter – or even the entire line.

Instead, the village plans to issue bonds to pay for the cost, repaying the debt through adjustments to water rates instead of making customers come up with thousands of dollars all at once.