Nov 18, 2021 - News

Where Denver's progress stands on lead pipe removal

Denver pipe replacement and Lead Reduction Program work areas
Data: Denver Water; Map: Jared Whalen/Axios

Denver Water is in the early stages of an ambitious $500 million project to rid the city of its toxic lead lines connecting between 64,000 and 84,000 homes to the water main.

  • The upgrades will take 15 years to complete, spokesperson Travis Thompson tells Axios.

Why it matters: A slew of sources can contribute to higher blood levels in children and adults, including rusted lead pipes pumping water to our sinks and showers.

  • Meanwhile, local doctors test only a fraction of children for levels of lead in their blood each year, even though federal law requires the tests for thousands of kids.
  • And Colorado does not mandate blood lead testing for children who are not enrolled in Medicaid, unlike many other states, including California, Iowa and New York, according to the Network for Public Health Law.

State of play: Denver Water is replacing lead pipes across the city at a faster rate than expected, Thompson says.

  • Through last week, nearly 9,800 lead service lines had been replaced since the start of the program last year.
  • Denver Water has a program goal of replacing 4,477 water service lines per year. In 2020, it exceeded that benchmark with more than 5,200 lines replaced throughout the city.

Of note: The agency is working on a "neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis" and prioritizing those who are most vulnerable to lead exposure. Places that serve large numbers of at-risk individuals, such as schools and daycare facilities, are also high on the city's list.

What to watch: The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill signed into law this week will deliver billions to Colorado, including $688 million over five years to eliminate lead service lines and pipes and improve water infrastructure across the state and in Denver, according to the White House.

  • The influx of cash could accelerate the city's pipe replacement project, though Thompson tells Axios it's still unknown how much money Denver Water will pocket.

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