Milwaukee Bureaucrats and Elected Officials Raised Water Rates, then Failed to Invest in Lead Pipe Removal

By Robert Miranda, Editor: Wisconsin Spanish Journal

April 25, 2016

It wasn’t long ago that Milwaukee home owners were informed of water rate increases by the City of Milwaukee Water Works. In fact, before the City was able to increase the rate, Milwaukee authorities had to notify the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) to gain PSC approval of the city’s intent to raise the water rate.

To make the request to raise the rate look good, city officials informed the PSC that one reason they had to raise the rate was so that investments can be made towards water infrastructure repair needs that the city of Milwaukee wanted to pursue—especially water main repairs and replacements.

Milwaukee’s water utility asked the PSC for two rate increases within a year. The rate increase was approved and the city residents saw an average quarterly rate increase by almost 10%.

A couple of years later, it turns out that city bureaucrats sent a letter to the PSC explaining that they will not be able to replace many of the old mains as they had stated when asking for permission to raise rates by over 10%. Complicating the matter even more, the city stated in its letter to the PSC that, “This is a matter of statewide public health concern for all utilities that have lead service lines. It also presents issues of how to address lead service lines on private property and financing options to assist homeowners for what could be very costly work.”

Basically, the city got the money it wanted and then turned around and said that it did not want to go it alone replacing the lead lateral hazards Milwaukee children are facing.

Mayor Barrett has a lead pipe hazard issue that he’s been dragging his feet about. There are a lot of lead pipes, and no one at City Hall seems to care why Milwaukeeans are facing health risk after paying higher rates to Milwaukee Water Works over the past few years.

Milwaukee has its own lead pipe problem. Too many service line laterals going to older homes are still lead. It is true that the difference between Milwaukee and Flint is that Milwaukee Water Works actually treats the water to keep the amount of the lead from leaching into our drinking water, keeping the drinking water safe to drink. The treatment of this water, and the alert to have water lines in homes flush water for 3–5 minutes before drinking the water, does NOT eliminate the hazard our children face.

In addition, the city says lead levels in drinking water spiked when the city was replacing old mains that connected to lead laterals. As a result, the city has stopped digging up those mains and replacing the lead pipes temporarily.

In the last 20 years, many communities have implemented lead service replacement programs and coordinated these efforts with infrastructure repairs. Madison addressed the issue and replaced all of the lead pipes in eleven years.

Over the past few years, Milwaukee bureaucrats and elected leaders have failed to not only create a comprehensive strategic plan to remove these lead pipes, they have also failed to set aside funding from revenues received from the increase in water rates to prepare a funded initiative aimed at removing a few of the lead pipes at best.

Rates Rose But Work Stopped

Milwaukee Water Works has not lowered rates since stopping the work they promised to do when it raised the rates.

The cost of replacing the lead laterals is estimated to be between $511 million and $756 million. The city water works’ share is estimated to be $266 million.

Because this lead hazard places many of Milwaukee’s children at risk, a coalition of Milwaukee leaders have come together to form the Freshwater for Life Action Coalition (FLAC).

The coalition was created to begin a campaign aimed at addressing the hazard of lead which threatens the health of Milwaukee families’ drinking water. The danger to the drinking water comes from lead service pipes that bring water into 70,000 homes, most of which are located in Milwaukee’s central city.

The coalition will be engaging in efforts that are designed to ultimately have all lead lateral service pipes removed from Milwaukee residential property.

Freshwater for Life Action Coalition will be organizing educational outreach, participating with other coalitions to alert Milwaukee residents of the hazard lead pipe laterals present to the health of families, especially children under 6 years of age.

The coalition also plans to:

  • Partner with organizations to develop a comprehensive strategic plan for lead pipe lateral removal

  • Participate in efforts to test the lead levels in the 70,000 homes that have been identified to have lead pipe laterals

  • Participate in efforts to test children under the age of six that reside in the 70,000 homes that have been identified to have lead pipe laterals for elevated levels of lead

Members of the coalition include:

Ms. Brenda Bell-White - Justice or Else Local Organizing Commitee (LOC)
Student Min. William Muhammad - Justice or Else Local Organizing Commitee (LOC)
Mr. Fred Royal: NAACP, Milwaukee Branch
Rev. Willie Brisco - WISDOM
Dr. Pat McManus - Black Health Coalition
Ms. Laura Manriquez - Southside Advocates For A Better Environment (SAFE)
Mr. Rodney Washington - Environmental Activist
Mr. Chris Johnson - KINGFISHmke
Mr. Robert Miranda - Wisconsin Spanish Journal

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Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on April 26, 2016

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