Newark finishing lead water pipe replacement years ahead of schedule

NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- A project to fix thousands of lead-contaminated water pipes that threatened the well being of the folks in New Jersey's largest city is nearly complete, set to be finished years ahead of schedule.

What started as another dark chapter Newark's history has changed to a story of success, with the replacement of more than 18,000 pipes.

It was suppose to take 10 years, but instead, it is close to completion in just two.

"I don't think anyone believed that we would be able to do this much in this short period of time," Mayor Ras Baraka said.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, lead in drinking water in the city was at dangerous levels. It was declared a public health emergency, and filters and bottled water were given to residents.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Newark lead levels in water meet federal standards for first time since 2017

It was a time of discontent, and the only solution was replacing the lead pipes -- a daunting task to say the least.

"If you look at the mountain, you'd be intimidated to climb it," Baraka said. "But we just went up, went up, went up, and now, you look back and you see how much that you've done."

Newark has become a national model for replacing lead water lines.

"We went through a storm, and then the sun came out," Baraka said. "Not all storms are there to wash you away, I guess."

The city secured $190 million in funding from Essex County, the Port Authority, and the state, and avoided raising taxes or hiking water bills to pay for the project.

The strategy was to have crews covering the city and get the job done.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Mayor: Newark water filter lead removal project 97% effective

"So on any given day, there could be 25 to 30 roads closed," Newark Department of Water and Sewer Director Kareen Adeem said. "We'd go house by house, block by block, replacing lead service lines, and we gave them incentives. We needed them to do 25 lead service lines per day, per contract."

And they did it, in part by training 50 Newark residents to do the job. Christopher Nobles is an apprentice who was happy to make his city a better place to call home.

"No matter your circumstance, at the end of the day, if you really want something and you have it in your heart that you want to do differently, you can make it happen," he said. "Anything is possible."

The crews did have to scale back due to the pandemic, but they are now picking up the pace and expect to be done in just a few weeks.

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