Augustana and Rock Island partner to get the lead out of drinking water

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In her first major initiative as new Augustana College president, Andrea Talentino on Wednesday announced an innovative partnership between the private liberal arts school and the city of Rock Island — to replace lead water service lines across the city.

In the aftermath of the public health crisis in Flint, Mich., and other American cities, Illinois passed a law in 2021 to help protect communities and citizens from the dangers of lead pipes. In response, Augustana College students and faculty are taking their studies into the community to understand the issues and help find solutions.

In a Wednesday press conference outside the Steve and Jane Bahls Campus Leadership Center (formerly Founders Hall, named for the immediate past college president), Talentino and other Augie leaders explained the new cooperative program.

Michael Reisner, director of Augustana’s Upper Mississippi Center for Sustainable Communities (photo by Jonathan Turner).

In 2021, the state enacted the Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act, which requires that cities inventory lead service lines (LSLs), replace all lines within deadlines, and implement financing strategies to fund such replacements.

The replacement of both utility-owned and privately owned portions of the LSLs is required. The act also requires that the entire process be equitable by requiring the prioritization of low-income neighborhoods, according to a college release.

Dr. Michael Reisner, director of Augustana’s Upper Mississippi Center for Sustainable Communities, said that students will get hands-on experience when they help the city comply with the new law. The established Upper Mississippi Center is partnering with Augustana’s newest center – Center for the Advancement of Community Health and Wellness – led by Dr. Kimberly Murphy, both housed in Hanson Hall of Science.

Murphy explained that the approach “is very much an interdisciplinary project,” in the way it will bring together students and faculty from all majors — with different skill sets and perspectives – to help tackle a real-life problem close to campus.

Kimberly Murphy, director of the new Center for the Advancement of Community Health and Wellness (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Under Reisner’s leadership, the Upper Mississippi Center has led projects across the region to help communities, starting with a project in Clinton, Iowa, in 2016. This will be the center’s second project in the hometown of the 162-year-old college, and it will be the first project for the Center for the Advancement of Community Health and Wellness.

Rock Island has approximately 15,000 water service lines, and about 12,000 are older than 1986 — predating when lead service lines were prohibited. The Illinois law says once an inventory is completed, cities have two years to create a replacement plan, and then up to 20 years to replace the lead lines.

Talentino became Augie’s first female president on July 1, 2022.

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July 27, 2022 at 12:51PM

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