Augustana President Andrea Talentino Wednesday announced a partnership between the college and the city of Rock Island to identify and inventory lead water service lines in the city.
She called the project "a perfect example of what an engaged education should be."
"This project hits the intersection of public policy, public health and education for a purpose, and really exemplifies the commitment to serving others," she said.
The partnership is spurred by a new Illinois law. In 2021, the state enacted the Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act. The act requires that cities inventory lead service lines (LSLs), replace all LSLs 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 process be equitable by requiring the prioritization of low-income neighborhoods.
Dr. Michael Reisner, director of Augustana's Upper Mississippi Center for Sustainable Communities, said Augustana 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 — the Center for the Advancement of Community Health and Wellness — led by Dr. Kimberly Murphy. This will allow for a multi-level approach to address the challenges that exist in communities with a large number of lead water service lines.
Dr. 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.
Under Dr. 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 about 15,000 water service lines, and about 12,000 are older than 1986, 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.
Dr. Reisner said the first priority is to get a more complete and accurate inventory of the lead service lines. "This is going to require dealing with some substantial uncertainty," he said. "There's a lot of incomplete and unavailable data."
He said the group also will assemble a community advisory board of college and city representatives, community leaders and citizens to help and give feedback.
Benefits for college and city
"It creates opportunities for our students to make a difference in their community," said Dr. Murphy. "Right now, it allows for them to apply the knowledge, perspectives and methods learned in their major to solve complex real-world problems. And it allows for them to collaborate with a diverse array of community stakeholders.
"The city and the Rock Island community get vital help solving their most pressing challenges at a time of limited and often declining resources, expertise of a diverse array of faculty, the energy and creativity of our students who can come up with completely out-of-the-box ideas because they really don't know the word 'no.'"
Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms said once the project is completed, the city will submit applications for funding through the Illinois EPA for replacement of the lines, which will then be done over a period of years.
He said the water service lines project builds on a number of projects that Augustana and Rock Island have collaborated on over the years. "And so we want to continue that that with that process. It's been very successful, and we're glad to have Augustana here in the city, and partner with them on a number of projects, and look forward to that in the future."
Keri Rursch, 309-738-2628