Sep 20, 2022 - News

Des Moines to launch a new lead pipe abatement program

Illustration of pipes shaped like a dollar sign.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Roughly 20,000 metro homes have lead water pipes that will cost upwards of $200 million to replace, according to estimates from Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) provided to Axios last week.

Why it matters: Lead is destructive to human health and it can leach from pipes into water systems.

State of play: Iowa has among the highest estimated rate of children — 76% of kids under 6 — with lead detected in their blood, according to a study published last year by JAMA Pediatrics.

  • The primary source for exposure being older housing.
  • Lead pipes were largely phased out before 1940 while the commercial sale of lead-based paint was banned by the federal government in 1978.

Driving the news: The utility is spearheading the creation of a pilot program among metro governments to help families shoulder the replacement costs, Jenny Puffer, director of water distribution, tells Axios.

  • The goal is to launch early next year and to first target neighborhoods with the worst problems.

What's happening: Metro customers own and are generally responsible for water line maintenance on their property. The typical cost to remove lead pipes from a home is around $10,000, Puffer said.

  • State and federal grants frequently cover about half the cost but the remaining expense leaves the work unattainable for many families, Puffer said.
  • The DMWW program would attempt to cover much or all the rest.

The big picture: As many as 10 million U.S. homes and 400,000 schools get water through lead service lines, White House officials estimated last year.

Threat level: High.

Yes, but: DSM's water is not corrosive and, in many cases, lead is not actively leaching into drinking water, Puffer said.

  • Free testing is available for most DMWW customers who own homes built before 1940.

Check your home: DMWW has published a map showing locations with potential lead lines in DSM, Pleasant Hill, Windsor Heights and unincorporated Polk County.

Of note: People who live in other communities can check with their water utility provider for lead mapping.

Service line inventories are to be completed under federal guidelines by Oct. 16, 2024.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Des Moines.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Des Moines stories

No stories could be found

Des Moinespostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Des Moines.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more