Fort Worth has several plans, processes and programs in place to reduce our customers' exposure to lead from drinking water.
Water that is corrosive can cause lead to dissolve from the plumbing materials that contain it. One way to provide protection for both lead service lines and private plumbing materials containing lead is by controlling the corrosivity of the water.
Fort Worth has a corrosion control plan, which is required under the federal Lead and Copper Rule. The purpose of corrosion control is to produce water that creates scale on the inside of pipes. This scale acts a barrier to reduce the dissolving of lead from pipes, solder and plumbing fixtures into the water.
Fort Worth’s corrosion control study was first done in 1994 and updated in 2009 at the request of the regulatory agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Fort Worth’s corrosion control technique is to adjust pH so the finished water is non-corrosive to metal. The water utility is in the process of having the plan evaluated to see if any changes are required.
The treated water is monitored for temperature, pH, alkalinity, sulfides and calcium to ensure ongoing corrosion control is in place. The monitoring is weekly at the point the water leaves the treatment plant and enters the distribution system and monthly for 25 distribution locations throughout city. The information is reported to TCEQ.
Finding lead service lines
As part of its asset management program, the utility started an in-house project in April 2016 to obtain GPS coordinates for every meter in the city. At the same time, staff are checking and recording the pipe material of the service line on both sides of the meter.
The service line is the pipe that runs from the water main to the point the line enters the building. Ownership is shared by the city and the property owner. The city owns the portion from the water main to the water meter, including the water meter. The property owner owns the portion from the meter to the point it enters the building.
The project is about 83 percent complete on the almost 275,000 water meter locations. The work is done by billing cycles. The initial priority was to assess the areas most likely to have lead service lines because of when they developed. This is the area within Loop 820, to the east of Loop 820 and immediately south of Loop 820.
Developments built in the past 30 years would have neither lead service lines nor private plumbing lines that are lead, but plumbing fixtures in the home or business could contain lead. The current lead-free standard did not take effect until Jan. 1, 2014. The locations could still have brass or chrome-plated brass faucets, galvanized pipes or other plumbing soldered with lead.
Fort Worth has no information on the type of material used in private plumbing lines inside homes and business. Customers who think their home or business could be at risk, can hire a can hire a licensed plumber to perform an inspection.
Image above: The image shows that the water utility owns the portion of the service line from the water main to the meter and the meter. The property owners owns the service line portion from the meter to the home or building.
Replacing lead service lines
Fort Worth has been replacing lead service lines through normal maintenance activity and water line rehabilitation projects for decades.
The utility now has a three-pronged approach to getting city-owned lead service lines out of the system. The goal is to replace all city-owned lead service lines by the end of 2021.
1. Field Operations crews continue to replace lead service lines they find during the course of normal repairs in the system.
2. When a cluster of lead service lines are found on one block or several blocks, a water rehabilitation project is initiated to replace the entire water line in the street. This process can take over a year to complete. It requires an engineering design to produce construction plans, then bidding the construction work, awarding the bid. At that point the months-long construction process can start.
3. A company is under contract to replace lead service lines that are scattered around and not in a cluster.
As of the end of January 2021, 1,790 lead services lines were found (0.79 percent of the locations surveyed). Ten of the lead service lines are on the customer side of the meter. The remaining amount are on the city-side. At least 1,396 of the city owned lead service lines have been replaced. Fort Worth’s goal is to replace all the city-owned lead service lines by the end of 2021.
Property owners and tenants, if applicable, are notified by letter when a lead service line is found.
Because removing lead service lines can create a short-term increased risk to lead exposure, property owners and tenants are notified again when construction is to occur and when it occurs.
Pipe scale and sediment build up over time inside service lines and private plumbing from the minerals in the water. This scale acts as a barrier to lead dissolving into the water as it sits in the pipe. Research now indicates that physically disturbing lead pipes can result in prolonged release of pipe scale and sediment containing high lead content, significantly increasing lead exposure risk to residents. This means disturbing the utility’s service line or the meter can cause the scale to come off of the private plumbing line on the other side of the meter.
When Fort Worth replaces a lead service line or disturbs a meter where either or both the service line and private plumbing line are lead, a packet is left on the front door notifying the customer this occurred. The packet includes steps the customer can take to reduce their risk to lead exposure.
The utility offers free led testing to all customers with known lead services lines.
Day Care Centers and Schools
There are no federal or state requirements for testing the water at schools and day care centers in Texas. The Fort Worth Code Compliance Consumer Health Division enforces city ordinances that require day care centers and schools to pass lead testing before being issued a health permit to open. This applies to new facilities or when facilities change ownership.
Service lines to schools were prioritized during the asset management/service line inventory project. No lead service lines were found at any school connected to the Fort Worth water system.