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Report: Infrastructure needs in Milwaukee getting larger, costlier

It’s getting more expensive to make needed repairs and replacements to Milwaukee’s sewer, water and wastewater infrastructure, according to a report release Friday.

The report, from the Milwaukee-based Public Policy Forum, took a look at infrastructure owned by the city’s Department of Public Works, the Milwaukee Water Works and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. Researchers first examined the general condition of the infrastructure and then analyzed each governmental body’s ability to afford future costs.

“Simply put, it is expensive to appropriately care for water and sewer pipes and treatment facilities,” says the report. This is especially true, the report continues, because of the age of much city infrastructure, the ambitious standards government rely on to keep drinking water clean and the public’s increasing awareness of the dangers posed by lead service lines.

The report finds that some of the most formidable obstacles are now before the Milwaukee Water Works. The city-owned water utility is faced with a pair of difficult tasks: Replacing the city’s remaining lead water-service lines, and speeding up its work to replace water main.

Last year, city officials carved out a systematic method for replacing the more than 70,000 lead laterals that supply water to homes and businesses. These lines make up about 45 percent of the water utility’s entire stock of 169,000 service lines.

Some of the study’s main findings were that:

  • The sewerage district will be faced with a $128 million surge in capital expenses in 2021, up 38 percent from what’s budgeted for 2017.
  • More than a quarter of the city’s rated sewer pipes, or 104 miles’ worth, should be considered for replacement
  • Milwaukee Water Works should increase the number of water-main miles it replaces from the 15 miles a year it does now to 20 miles in three years. This change would require $29 million to be spent in 2020.
  • Replacing the water utility’s lead service lines may take more than 50 years to accomplish, and could cost ratepayers an additional $7 million a year.

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