Damakant Jayshi

The Wausau Water Works Commission on Monday approved a pilot study on the Lead Service Line Replacement Plan for 2023 as an educational element and requested that the city’s Finance Committee consider allocating ARPA funds for the project.

The Commission also asked Department of Public Works to develop a plan of action on improved safety training for the utility staff after hearing that employees considered the current system ineffective.

Some commissioners wanted to postpone the launch of the lead service line pilot before securing funding but ultimately recommended moving forward and requesting that the Finance Committee allocate the funding.

Public Works Director Eric Lindman told the commission that his department applied for funding with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources but they do not expect to have a definitive answer until summer.

In his memo to the WWW Commission, Lindman said the pilot study would be conducted in a small area with a significant number of known lead service lines. According to city documents, about 40 such lines on Henrietta Street have been identified. Using a flat cost of $4,000 per site, the estimated cost is projected at $160,000. The timeline to replace all such lines in the city is 15 years.

Lindman wrote that there are many scenarios to fund all or a portion of the work on the private side but recommended the commission consider the precedent such a move would represent if the body approved the pilot study.

Many cities across the U.S. are trying to replace lead pipes, with or without state or federal funding. Some have issued mandates to residents to replace their lines and have offered to meet at least part of the cost of replacement. The City of Appleton, for example, enacted an ordinance in January last year mandating “all property owners replace their lead or galvanized service line within one year of written notification from the City.” 

Lindman said the commission could consider a mandatory replacement ordinance, seek the state Public Service Commission’s approval to use revenue rates to pay for LSL replacement on the private side or subsidize private side lead replacement.

Commission calls for plan on improved safety training

Improved safety training was recommended following a presentation by consultant Baker Tilly on staffing needs of the utility. During his presentation the firm’s managing director, Nicholas Dragisich, said the utility’s safety training needed to be improved, surprising some commissioners.

Commissioner Jim Force said he is alarmed that safety training had not been previously improved and asked for the basis of such a finding. The utility has a history of deaths in the past, as Commissioner John Robinson pointed out.

The consultant said most of the training required employees to watch videos on computer, which some characterized as boring, repetitive and not very informative or effective. More in-person training is preferred, the consultant said.

Lindman said the department does have an annual safety training in place but admitted most was through video modules.

Commissioner Force suggested that the utility should take advantage of training programs offered by American Water Works Association and Water Environment Federation.

Commissioner Robinson added that the report should be taken as an opportunity to improve the safety of the employees, and not as some sort of challenge. He then suggested that the Department of Public Works and Utilities develop an action plan on the matter and bring it to the commission for consideration.

Consultant recommends bidding for GAC filtration while applying for funding

Also this week the Water Commission reviewed the status of the city’s proposed Granular Activated Carbon treatment process to address PFAS in drinking water – and its possible funding.

Donohue & Associates, a consultant hired by the city, recommended that Wausau bid for the GAC filtration technology, a requirment before any funding can be applied for.

Donohue’s Susan Wojtkiewicz made the recommendation.

In June last year, the commission approved implementing GAC) technology in city’s filtration system in response to PFAS discovered in all six of the city’s drinking water wells. The GAC technology is to be installed in the newly operational drinking water treatment facility. The cost of the project has been estimated at $16 million, with a timeline of 18-24 months for it completion.

In response to question about Wausau’s chances of getting state funding for GAC technology, Wojtkiewicz said the city’s outlook for receiving funding is good since all of its drinking water sources have been found to have PFAS, or ‘forever chemicals.’