Chicago receives $336M federal loan to replace portion of lead water lines

Loan will cover replacement of just 7 percent of Chicago’s more than 400,000 lead pipes

Chicago will receive a $336 million loan to replace up to 30,000 lead pipes across the city, according to an announcement made on Friday by city, state and local leaders.

Chicago contains the most lead service lines in the country, with more than 400,000 citywide. It wasn’t until 1986, when lead pipes were banned in the state.

According to Chicago’s Department of Water Management, lead service lines were only installed in single-family houses, two-flats and some three-flats. Officials stated that there is not a public health crisis due to the water in Chicago.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no amount of lead is safe to ingest.

“Every Chicagoan deserves to trust that the water coming from their tap is safe to drink, to cook with, to bathe their children,” said Elevate Water Policy Director Anna-Lisa Castle.

The loan is through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, and will go toward replacing up to 30,000 lead pipes in the city. However, that’s only about 7.5% of the lead pipes citywide.

“We have about 50 years through the state law but we’d like to get it done sooner,” said Dr. Andrea Cheng, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Water Management. “This will be a multi-decade effort, though.” 

She believes it could take decades and upwards of $12 billion to complete.

“It is quite the monumental effort to get everything up and going,” Cheng said. “We think we’ll continue to get more efficient, get prices down lower especially as technology improves.”

Since former Mayor Lori Lightfoot launched the Equity Lead Service Line Replacement Program in 2020, 3,777 lead pipes have been replaced. Water Management officials believe a 2023 program called Breaks and Leaks will help speed up the pace.

Now, any time a lead pipe in Chicago breaks or leaks, the city will need to replace it.

“Our goal for this year is 4,500 but our goal for next year is 8,000,” Cheng said.

Residents can check to see if they have a lead service line at their home by visiting this website.

Those who have a lead pipe service line can request a free lead test kit here.