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Detroit’s lead service line replacement program to use cost-efficient location technology to save estimated $165M


Detroit’s lead service line replacement program to use cost-efficient location technology to save estimated $165M

  • BlueConduit’s predictive modeling will allow Detroit to only excavate 384 water service lines instead of 300,000 to comply with Lead & Copper Rule reporting requirements
  • Entire project funded by grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy
  • Startup BlueConduit successfully used its lead service line predictive modeling in Flint

DETROIT – The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) will save an estimated $165 million by using BlueConduit’s predictive modeling to determine lead service line inventory in the city of Detroit and meet state regulations. The effort, funded by grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy (EGLE), will allow the City of Detroit to meet the January 2025 deadline of providing a Complete Distribution Systems Material Inventory to EGLE as required for all Michigan cities and townships with lead service lines, and inform planning for Detroit’s projected $450 million lead service line replacement program. 

BlueConduit partnership reduces the regulatory impact on water rates
DWSD will save an estimated $165 million by utilizing BlueConduit’s predictive modeling to submit the required distribution inventory to EGLE. DWSD will only have to excavate 384 stop boxes, instead of more than 300,000. The stop box is the turn-on/off valve outside that attaches to the service line which brings treated drinking water from Detroit’s water system to the home or business.

The service line material data from the 384 stop boxes, along with parcel (property) and permit (including age of house) data, will be input into the BlueConduit software to provide a report of the probable locations and amount of lead service lines in the city of Detroit. The $165 million estimated expense to excavate all 300,000 water service lines to verify pipe material would otherwise be passed along to Detroit water customers through a likely rate increase.

“Every decision we make at DWSD keeps affordability in mind,” said DWSD Deputy Director & Chief Engineer Palencia Mobley, P.E. “This partnership with BlueConduit and the funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and EGLE allow us to have mapping of probable lead service line locations for planning and regulatory reporting, without digging up every service line in the city of Detroit which would have likely increased water rates to pay for the work.”

Based on previous estimates, DWSD projected Detroit has approximately 80,000 lead service lines. The predictive model will help support a more efficient lead service line replacement program to better predict the number and location of those pipes.

Technology startup BlueConduit guides efficient pipe replacement programs
Co-founded by University of Michigan professor Eric Schwartz and Georgia Tech professor Jacob Abernethy, BlueConduit uses predictive modeling to map the probable location of lead service lines. Its platform was used successfully in Flint by taking existing data and using it to model the probability of lead service lines across the city. Since then, more than 50 U.S. cities are using BlueConduit’s methods to inventory and locate lead service lines.

“BlueConduit’s data-driven software equips the city with the information it needs to efficiently and cost-effectively replace service lines,” said Eric Schwartz, a co-founder of BlueConduit and a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “It helps the city get the lead out sooner, so people are living with lead for less time.”

Project is entirely funded without water rate dollars
This project relies on $254,000 in grant funding. The Rockefeller Foundation is providing funding to BlueConduit, to support its lead abatement case study, for the cities of Detroit, Benton Harbor, Toledo (OH) and Trenton (NJ). The Detroit allotment is $50,000. Also, the Kresge Foundation is providing a $50,000 grant specific to Detroit’s use of BlueConduit. Furthermore, DWSD has received a $154,000 EGLE Drinking Water Asset Management (DWAM) grant to fund the stop box inspections.

“Environmental lead — in the houses where too many of us live, in the air that too many of us breathe, in the water that too many of us drink — has been known as an environmental scourge for decades. And despite a great deal of work to address the issue, there remains much to be done. We are proud to do our share to support this innovative effort by DWSD and BlueConduit to advance the goal of replacing all lead service lines in the city by 2040,” said Wendy Lewis Jackson, managing director of the Kresge Foundation’s Detroit Program.

Michigan’s Lead and Copper Rule requires lead service line reporting
The revised Michigan Lead & Copper Rule — the most stringent in America — enacted in June 2019, requires water utilities/municipalities to replace all lead service lines within the next 20 years. The Rule also requires the utility/municipality to provide a Complete Distribution Systems Material Inventory by January 2025. EGLE is allowing and encouraging the water providers to use predictive modeling. Otherwise, utilities throughout Michigan will have to excavate at every stop box on every property with city water service to verify the service line material prior to that deadline.

Detroit’s Lead Service Line Replacement Program is most robust in America
Since 2018, DWSD has been replacing full lead service lines while on the same street replacing the water main. The cost is built into the capital budget as part of the existing water rate structure. Every homeowner/occupant since the beginning of the program has given permission to DWSD to replace the private portion of the lead service line.

A mobile-friendly map-based app is used to track lead service line replacement and update DWSD’s asset management records.

DWSD replaced 1,155 lead service lines via its Capital Improvement Program through the end of 2020. An additional 1,200 pipes are projected to be replaced in the next two years. This work can be accelerated with additional funding from the state and federal governments, such as the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act proposed by President Joe Biden.

Mobley added, “The most effective and cost-efficient method for replacing lead service lines is when we already have crews on the street replacing a water main. DWSD staff provide extensive community outreach in advance of these projects, resulting in a 100% resident response rate when we offer to replace their portion of a lead service line.”

DWSD engineers will use the BlueConduit modeling data as another input when teams design water main replacement projects and predict the potential of a lead service line to exist, though it won’t be the sole data used. While on the street replacing the water main, DWSD contractors will still have to excavate every stop box to visually verify the service line material. The Michigan Lead & Copper Rule requires that lead service lines cannot be connected to new/replaced water mains.

See media assets, including images and video, and the media roundtable recording at: https://dwsd.box.com/s/8z35kbb7y3ffa8t5x5sd0qn1w9qv3f2c 

About the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) delivers clean water and collects sanitary sewage and stormwater from more than 230,000 accounts, representing a residential population of nearly 700,000. DWSD’s water system consists of more than 2,700 miles of water main and 29,000-plus fire hydrants, and the combined sewer collection system has nearly 3,000 miles of sewer piping, more than 90,000 catch basins and 16 green stormwater infrastructure projects within the city of Detroit. Since June 2019, DWSD has committed $100 million per year to begin to address the aging infrastructure, including replacing lead service lines. To learn more about DWSD or to request water services, make payments, apply for affordability programs, or report water or sewer emergencies, call DWSD Customer Service at 313-267-8000, use the Improve Detroit mobile app, or visit www.detroitmi.gov/dwsd 

About BlueConduit
BlueConduit is a water analytics company that has developed cutting-edge, predictive machine learning methods to locate lead service lines, empowering local officials with the information to efficiently remove those pipes. The company’s solutions enable utilities to focus their resources on digging where the lead is and accelerating the removal of this significant health concern and save millions of dollars in avoided digs. Since 2016, BlueConduit has worked with more than 50 municipalities and inventoried nearly 1 million service lines, which serve more than 2 million people. For more information, visit BlueConduit.com and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.