Huge victory for Minnesotans’ health: Walz signs lead service line bill

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Yesterday, May 16, MEP staff witnessed history as Governor Tim Walz signed HF 24, the lead service line replacement bill, putting cleaner drinking water within reach for many thousands of Minnesotans.

This newly-signed law, authored by Rep. Sydney Jordan (DFL-Minneapolis) and Sen. Jen McEwen (DFL-Duluth), passed on a unanimous vote in the House and the vote of all but two Senators in the Senate. Using a combination of state and federal dollars this bill puts Minnesota on the path to replace all the state’s lead drinking water service lines, which currently deliver water to more than 100,000 homes, within ten years. With the combined funding sources, the state will have the capacity to launch this program with over $100 million per year for the next four years.

Examples of lead service line types

Drinking water pipes made of lead are a stubborn source of lead contamination, especially in older homes. Lead accumulates in the human body over time, and is particularly harmful to children’s developing brains and bodies. It can contribute to the dysfunction of vital organs and harm brain development, creating cascading impacts on community health and public safety.

There are ways for families who are aware that their water service supply pipe is made of lead to mitigate their risk, such as running a faucet for a few minutes each morning or filtering the water they drink and cook with. But the only long-term, surefire solution is to replace both the privately and publicly owned portions of the service line. This can cost $10,000 or more for a household, putting it out of reach for many low-income families. And that’s only if they know they have a lead pipe – many Minnesotans are unaware of the hidden danger.

HF 24 tackles the problem comprehensively, providing funds for communities to identify and map their lead service lines, notify residents, then replace the pipes at no cost to the homeowner. That means fewer health problems for families and safer communities overall – as Governor Walz told attendees at the bill signing, every dollar spent on lead service line replacement produces 3 to 4 dollars in community benefits.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter

A local version of this plan is already underway in Saint Paul, which has a large stock of older homes with lead lines. As Mayor Melvin Carter said at the bill signing, “In Saint Paul, we have delicious, clean water, but at the very end, it can be contaminated by lead as it enters your home.” In Saint Paul, lead line information is already mapped and publicly available and fully publicly-funded replacements are ongoing. The city’s experience helped inform the work done to craft an effective statewide bill.

MEP has worked to get this legislation enacted for several years. Our drinking water testing program in Duluth helped shine a spotlight on the problem of lead exposure. Two years ago we started work with allied organizations and legislators to craft the legislation to solve the problem over a ten year timeframe. During this session, we advocated for the bill at each committee stop with letters and testimony. And it’s with pride that we were there when it become law.

Rep. Sydney Jordan, HF 24’s author

The fact that this bill passed with such overwhelming support in both of the closely divided houses of the Legislature is a testament to the nature of the problem. Rep. Jordan put it this way: “Every single member of the House and almost every single member of the Senate agrees that lead is not safe.”

It’s also a testament to the broad coalition that fought for this legislation: environmental groups like MEP, and member organizations Clean Water Action and Friends of the Mississippi River, municipal groups like the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and the League of Minnesota Cities, and labor unions. They know that lead line replacement isn’t just a win for health, but a win for jobs – an estimated 2,400 jobs annually over the next ten years.

In a session full of environmental wins, this bipartisan, massively popular one should stand as a bright example of smart policy, sound science, and community organizing coming together for a huge step forward. We echo the words of Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, who said, “Our ultimate goal, to make Minnesota the best place to raise a family, can’t be reached until we prevent harms to mothers and children from outdated infrastructure.”

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