Chicago’s lead program should get a boost from Biden’s infrastructure plan

While the price tag on this infrastructure bill may seem high, the cost of doing nothing would be even higher.

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Chicago Department of Water Management employees at a water main break in January 2019.

Chicago Department of Water Management employees work at the site of a water main break on North Nagle and West Catalpa avenues in January 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

In announcing his massive infrastructure plan this week, President Joe Biden called it a “once in a generation investment in America” that will improve our country’s aging infrastructure while strengthening our economy.

All Chicagoans should be thrilled at this announcement, not only for the reasons laid out in a Sun-Times editorial, but because of the commitment to replace 100% of the nation’s lead pipes and service lines.

Chicago, embarrassingly, has the most lead pipes of any city in the country. We’ve been far too slow to address this issue, which contaminates our drinking water and results in disastrous effects, particularly in the development of children. Tests have found lead-contaminated water in each of Chicago’s neighborhoods, though we know that low income residents suffer an outsize amount due to other environmental and healthcare factors.

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To address this crisis, the Lightfoot administration last month announced a program to start replacing these lead lines throughout the city. However, with the funding available at the time, the replacement of the city’s 400,000 lead lines was expected to take years. The financial reality of funding such a massive infrastructure improvement project could not be ignored.

But with Biden’s commitment and federal funding, Chicago ought to be able to ramp up the program and complete the lead pipe replacement program ahead of schedule, bringing safe, clean and reliable water to all residents, regardless of zip code. 

While the price tag on this infrastructure bill may seem high, the cost of doing nothing would be even higher. The president’s American Jobs Plan is something FDR could be proud of, the type of New Deal-era government program that got a post-Great Depression United States back on track.

This is the type of thinking that will lead our economic recovery from the pandemic and into an equitable, green future.

Mariyana Spyropoulos, MWRD Commissioner

Presidential priorities

There is a crisis on our Southern border, with migration overwhelming our resources. President Joe Biden made this — gaining control of the crisis on the border — a major priority during his presidential campaign. He also appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to take charge.

Harris hasn’t taken any trips to the border to investigate how bad things are. She is, however, coming to Chicago this week to talk about the COVID-19 vaccine. Why is she not down at the Mexican border?

Mike Rice, Jefferson Park

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