City not seeing lead pipe as inventory gets underway


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Aug 10, 2023

City not seeing lead pipe as inventory gets underway

Carson City Utility Manager Andy Hummel holding a lead pipe Aug. 10, 2023. Photo by Scott Neuffer. By Scott Neuffer Thursday, August 17, 2023 The good news in dealing with what Carson City Utility

Carson City Utility Manager Andy Hummel holding a lead pipe Aug. 10, 2023. Photo by Scott Neuffer.

By Scott Neuffer

Thursday, August 17, 2023

The good news in dealing with what Carson City Utility Manger Andy Hummel calls the “unknowns” in a service-line inventory for the city — as required by new federal guidelines — is lead piping is not being found.

Hummel said he is not aware of any city-owned service lines from water mains to customer meters that are lead. Furthermore, roughly 4,000 customers that replied to a recent survey about customer-owned service lines – from meters to homes — have not indicated any lead piping either, as of Aug. 11.

However, the city has more than 20,000 water customers, and more work is needed in what the city hopes is a productive partnership. The surveys went out in July with utility bills and can be accessed online:

“It will definitely help speed this up for sure,” said Hummel.

The initiative comes after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revised federal standards for lead and copper related to drinking water and plumbing.

“Together with unprecedented funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, this guidance will help water utilities comply with the requirements of the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions that went into effect in December 2021 and make rapid progress on removing harmful lead from America’s drinking water,” the EPA said in an Aug. 4, 2022, press release.

Under the rule revisions, water utilities must develop and maintain an inventory of service lines by Oct. 16, 2024. According to Carson City Public Works, after the inventory is completed, the next step would be developing plans to replace any lead pipes and galvanized (steel) pipes downstream of lead pipes. This could take five to ten years, Hummel estimated.

“We need to have it (the inventory) by October of next year, for sure, so that’s our ultimate target,” said Hummel. “A lot of it will be now, OK, all these unknowns, how are we going to go find those out? Are we going to have a staff member that can go out and look in crawl spaces if necessary?”

The city has been working with Atkins, an engineering consultant, to develop a digital GIS database to inventory service lines. Regarding city-owned lines, the city has relied on written notes for decades.

“Historically, a lot of water utilities, including Carson, utilized what’s called a water meter card,” Hummel said.

That means every time the city set a meter, the date, meter location and type of pipe on the city side were noted.

“They (Atkins) are taking that information and digitizing it for us,” said Hummel.

Construction timeframes will be important for the customer side of the inventory, Hummel explained. He said lead was outlawed for plumbing usage in the 1980s. For customers with homes built after Oct. 1, 1989, the Public Works survey is easy — the rest of the survey doesn’t have to be filled out. For customers with homes built before that date, the survey is a bit trickier.

Carson City Water Operations Manager Joe Reyna showed the Appeal a piece of lead pipe likely a century old that he found on a project. The pipe wasn’t connected to anything but had been buried during another pipe replacement in the past.

Public concerns about lead pipes existed as early as the late 1800s, according to an article in the American Journal of Public Health. Despite health concerns, lead was used well into the 20th century. Mid-century, galvanized pipe was used for plumbing, explained Reyna.

“The 40s and 50s I think is when that stuff (galvanized) was mostly put in,” he said.

According to American Vintage Home, a plumbing company specializing in older homes in the Chicago area, galvanized pipes corrode on the inside and can pollute a home’s water supply, not to mention store lead if connected to old lead pipe.

“If we know it (galvanized) is downstream of lead, it will have to go into our plan of how to get that lead out and then replace that galvanized,” Hummel said.

He added, “If we don’t know that that is not lead all the way to the main, we have to consider it until we verify otherwise.”

The city has seen older galvanized service lines going into homes. Fortunately, they’re also seeing a lot of safe plastic lines.

“It’s nightmare to connect to,” Reyna said of galvanized pipe.

Copper is a different animal. Reyna said copper started being used in the 1960s to replace galvanized pipe. The Public Works survey askes customers if their service line is copper and whether it was installed before Oct. 1, 1989. The problem isn’t with copper pipe itself, but with lead solder used on older copper piping. Information on older copper lines will be included in the inventory, and Hummel expects the EPA to mandate replacement of lead-soldered lines in the future.

“So that’s why the older coppers can be a concern with the joints, basically,” Hummel said.

If the current trend doesn’t hold and a customer does identify a lead service line to their home, it would be included in the new inventory. Hummel said the city would also work with the homeowner on water sampling to detect any lead issues. He remains hopeful federal dollars will be available for any necessary replacement.

“We are using every tool available, including providing this important guidance, strengthening the Lead and Copper Rule, and investing $15 billion through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to remove lead pipes,” Radhika Fox, EPA assistant administrator of water, said in the 2022 news release.

“We’re not sure how that’s going to look yet,” Hummel said of the funding.

He expects federal funds to be administered by the state (Nevada Division of Environmental Protection). Whatever the next year holds, Hummel believes working together with customers will keep costs down. Early survey results of no lead are a good sign.

“We’re hoping to keep it that way,” he said.

How to identify pipe material

• Lead pipe is gray in color, nonmagnetic, and has soft metal that scratches easily.

• Galvanized pipe is gray, silvery or whitish metal. A magnet will stick to galvanized pipe.

• Copper pipe is similar in color and shine to a penny, could have green or blue coloration and is nonmagnetic.

• Plastic pipe, PVC or black polyethylene, is nonmagnetic.

• The Public Works service line survey can be accessed online:

Assistance contacts:

Kelly Hale, environmental control foreman, [email protected].

Joe Reyna, water operations supervisor, [email protected]

Andy Hummel, utility manager, [email protected].

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