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    Seattle Times: Bills in Olympia aim to remove lead from school water supplies

Seattle Times: Bills in Olympia aim to remove lead from school water supplies

February 10th, 2017|

This article originally appeared in the Seattle Times on Feb. 8, 2017

Bills in Olympia aim to remove lead from school water supplies

State lawmakers are looking at ways to remove lead from public water lines that connect to schools, day-care centers and other facilities.

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers are looking at ways to remove lead from public water lines that connect to schools, day-care centers and other facilities.

Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, has sponsored House Bill 1805, which is scheduled for a public hearing 8 a.m. Thursday in the House Environment Committee.

Farrell’s proposal would require public water systems by 2020 to replace water lines that are not lead-free and that hook up to buildings providing public K-12 and charter schools, preschools, early child-care programs and family day-care providers.

The bill sets a more ambitious long-term goal: By 2030, public water systems would have to replace all lead water lines within their service areas.

While health officials have said there’s little risk from lead poisoning in Washington, elevated lead levels detected in Tacoma schools and homes have thrown a spotlight on the issue. Meanwhile, lead poisoning among children in Flint, Mich., drew nationwide attention to lead in drinking water.

Young children can be particularly susceptible to lead, which can cause physical and mental problems.

But with legislators pressed to fully fund K-12 education and to make improvements in Washington’s troubled mental-health system, the bill’s prospects are far from certain.

Farrell’s proposal would make money available from the state’s Public Works Assistance Account, which is used to make loans and financial guarantees to local governments for infrastructure projects.

The Legislature in recent years has taken money from the account and used it or other purposes to help balance state budgets.

“I also think that if we tie it to something like lead, and kids, maybe there’s a way to keep the money” in the public works account, Farrell said.

Farrell acknowledged her approach for funding water- line replacements could be difficult.

“This bill will only go somewhere if Republicans are willing to go along, and if the water districts feel like this is something that they can do,” she said. “And again, that’s why I think some state money is a piece of that.”

She added, “On the other hand, I would say that families would say, like, ‘Get lead out of our water supply.’ ” Republican legislative leaders this week said they agree that replacing lead water lines is a priority.

“We’ll be looking at this in a variety of ways,” Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said in a regularly scheduled news conference.

Lawmakers could also dedicate other money to fund the replacement of water lines in the two-year state operating budget currently being crafted, according to Farrell and Schoesler.

Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, has introduced a different proposal to replace lead water lines, Senate Bill 5745.

Kuderer’s bill also proposes using the Public Works Assistance Account, and would require testing at some schools for lead in water.

Lawmakers should work to both fully fund education and keep lead out of school drinking water, she added.

“Does it do us any good to send our kids to school and pay for a really great education if they’re being exposed to lead in the same environment?” Kuderer said. “I think we can do both.”