Galesburg launches project to remove lead water service lines

GALESBURG, Illinois -

Just outside Tammy Kasparie's century-old home on Chambers Street, a plumbing crew is making important changes.

They're working above and below ground to replace a lead service water line.

"We're just ready to have new piping in," said Haley Kasparie, 17, on Thursday, July 6.  "Be able to actually drink the water without having to be worried."

Galesburg is starting a nearly $2-million project to improve its water delivery to homes. The city has nearly 3,000 residential lead service water lines and hopes to replace one-third of them by year's end.

The Kasparie home is first on the list.  That's because past tests detected kids with lead levels that topped the EPA amount for action.

Haley, who watched workers go in and out of the house on Thursday, remembers the scare.

"All the kids that I watch," she recalled.  "I was letting them drink the water and worried about them getting sick."

They'll repeat the scene at more than 400 Galesburg homes in coming months, focusing on low-income neighborhoods with a history of higher lead levels.

"If you have young children or pregnant women in the house, any amount of lead in the water is potentially detrimental," said Galesburg Mayor John Pritchard.

Galesburg hoped to reach twice as many homes in the first go-round, but bidding doubled the price to roughly $4,000 per home.

Each project takes up to four hours, inside and out.  They hope to eventually complete six each day.  Other Illinois cities are watching closely.

"We are the first ones in the state to get the lead service lines replaced, as far as being paid for by the drinking water fund," said Wayne Carl, director of planning and public works.

Galesburg hopes to renew the forgivable loan to switch-out another 400 homes this Fall.  At the same time, there are warnings of funding delays due to the state budget crisis.

"People can do things to protect themselves if they have a lead service line, but it's just better to remove them from the system entirely."

The city has also removed about 150 lines while working on water mains during the year.

At the Kasparie home, there's a sense of relief about being house number one.

"I think it's really good," Haley concluded.  "I can't wait for it to be done."