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Galesburg will finish replacing all of its lead pipes by next fall

The city has just begun phase 5 of 6 in its replacement process, and hopes to remove 500 more lead lines this summer.

GALESBURG, Ill. — Galesburg says its nearing the end of its lead water service pipe replacement plan. Now, the final 1,000 lines are set to be removed by next fall. 

The city is in the fifth of six phases when it comes to lead pipe replacement. Their contractor plans to remove 500 lines this summer, beginning July 19, and wrap up the last 500 lines next year. 

"We began lead service line replacements in 2017. It is a relief to be this close to the replacement program completion," said Tim Fey, Water Superintendent for Galesburg. "It's important to get the lead service lines replaced because it's a health concern. It's a health issue. We've been addressing it for a number of years, and it'll be a relief to be finished." 

All 3,000 lines were initially slated for replacement after Galesburg came under intense EPA scrutiny in 2015 for childhood lead poisoning levels. Since then, the city has contracted out to J.C. Dillion, Inc., a private plumbing company, every summer to chip away at the issue. Although the service lines are owned by homeowners, Galesburg pays for the entire replacement, thanks to a forgivable loan from the state. 

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"Our excavation crew will come through, they'll dig up the watermain," said Jon Dillon, Superintendent at J.C. Dillion. "Then they'll enter a cable through the [lead] line, slip it all the way through, and pull it. This trenchless technology has made it easier for us to be less invasive on the streets. We don't have to close down a street, we can keep traffic rolling through." 

It's one huge factor in accomplishing the transition so quickly. The team digs two holes on either side of the road, and then pulls the lead line out from underneath, before slipping the new plastic line under the road and out the other side. 

The crew can perform the entire process in about 3-4 hours, and typically accomplishes five a day. For the new pipe, they turn towards a blue plastic called polyethylene. 

"It keeps away the corrosion on the lines," said Dillion. "With copper, a lot of the acidity in the line or in the ground would eat away at it. But with the polyethylene, it's at least a 40-year lifespan." 

And Galesburg's soon-to-be finish line is actually coming at an advantageous time for the city. Illinois has a new law on the desk of Governor Pritzker, requiring all towns across the state to replace all of their lead water service pipes. 

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"We are ahead of the curve on this one," noted Fey. "By getting started in 2017, we got a good jump on the program. Now there's been some reaching out to us about how we're getting it done and how our program has been going." 

So while not everyone in Galesburg will be rid of their lead pipes this year - some of which have been in use for almost a century - that number is growing smaller by the day. 

"Everyone doesn't like change at times," said Dillion. "But, you know, it's a change for the good, right." 

The City of Galesburg was selected for an Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP) grant for a project to...

Posted by City of Galesburg, IL Government on Monday, June 21, 2021