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City of Toledo Receives EPA Grant to Utilize Artificial Intelligence to Identify Lead Water Lines

Posted on October 1, 2020 by

For years, Junction Coalition, a Toledo Community Organization, has partnered with Freshwater Future to tackle water related issues such as: lead service lines, harmful algae blooms (HABS), water disconnection, and many more water-related disparities that directly and indirectly impact minority and low-socioeconomic communities the most.

Now, these groups and others are partnering to tackle lead service line replacements in the City of Toledo. Blue Conduit, a water infrastructure analytics consultant, presented an opportunity to Freshwater Future to focus on lead line identification using artificial intelligence (AI). Using records provided by municipalities and water departments, Blue Conduit assimilates the information and produces a predictive algorithm to more accurately pinpoint lead lines throughout a community before a single hole has to be dug. Junction Coalition went to the city urging them to approve this strategy while demonstrating the benefits of cost effectiveness and efficiency of both time and resources. Replacing lead lines can cost approximately $3,000 – $10,000 per home, with a portion of this cost attributed to the trial and error in locating lead lines. This cost-savings became very clear to the city, thus, making use of this technology a priority.

Experts from all around the city pooled together their time, expertise, and resources from University of Toledo, Lucas County Health Department, the City, Blue Conduit, Freshwater Future, and Junction Coalition to devise a plan to appropriate the necessary funding to use AI to pinpoint lead lines. The completed plan was sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) with a funding request proposal led by the city of Toledo entitled Using Artificial Intelligence to Reduce Lead Exposure. In September, 2020, the Director of Environmental Justice Environmental Protection Agency, Matthew Tajeda, approved the plan and awarded $200,000 for the proposal. This funding means Blue Conduit can generate more actionable data faster for the city of Toledo and allow them to accelerate the removal of lead lines. In addition, an education campaign will be developed and implemented to reach the most vulnerable communities to help reduce the exposure to lead as the lines are replaced in Toledo.

The City, Blue Conduit, Freshwater Future, The University of Toledo, Toledo-Lucas County Health Department and local partners aim to reduce lead exposure through well-tested, data-driven prioritization techniques. Using a predictive model, this project will assess home-by-home water service line material probabilities based on existing parcel and neighborhood-level data and a representative sample of water service lines in the city taken by the project team. These probabilities will guide which homes should receive targeted education, water filters and ultimately the prioritization of the lead service line (LSL) replacement program. Throughout the entirety of this project, stakeholder meetings will be held and educational materials will be created with a focus on these high-risk communities, with the goal of minimizing resident lead exposure. This proposal, led by the City, combines the technical task of identifying lead lines, conducted by Blue Conduit, with a community education effort, implemented by Freshwater Future.

For this project, Freshwater Future will work with grassroots community groups in Toledo to reach residents in the most vulnerable environment justice neighborhoods to inform and educate about lead in water; proper filter use and maintenance; reducing exposure during lead line replacements; and community participatory actions for water quality control. Freshwater Future will work with community partners regarding public health and water quality as it relates to disenfranchised communities.

Freshwater Future brings extensive experience in working with grassroots community groups and environmental justice communities following a strict code of principles for collaborating with community.  As mentioned earlier, we have worked for several years on helping communities with lead in water issues.  We are also fortunate to have staff members who are Toledo residents with deep ties to several of the targeted communities, starting from a position of shared trust.

We look forward to being a part of this innovative project to provide critical data that the City of Toledo can use to ultimately speed-up lead line replacements, reducing lead exposure to Toledo’s most vulnerable residents while engaging residents in understanding more about water threats and actions that protect public health.

@FreshwaterFutur

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.