Malden’s water system tested over the federal limit

Water has been a major topic at recent finance subcommittee meetings of the City Council. The questions are many and the financial impact is huge. One of the questions is simply how to pay for the work that needs to be done, and questions abound about what needs to be done and by when.

This is the first in a multi-part series on the water project. Here we’ll address some of the background on the need for this project.

There are three main reasons why the water system project was initiated:

1.) Any water service lines which contain lead pose a health hazard.

2.) Old pipes as they age can crack and leak —— the city ends up paying the price of any lost water.

3.) Many cast iron pipes have corroded over the past 100 years of service and that corrosion constricts the flow of water which causes a public safety hazard from reduced water flow to fire hydrants.


One of the public documents available refers to consent descrees which mandate Malden carry out certain types of work —— it’s quite clear this is not an optional project to pursue.

The good news is that our main water system brings in water from the world-class Quabbin Reservoir to Malden’s borders. However, as of April 5, reports indicate there are more than 22 percent of residential water service lines made of lead in Malden. This is approximately 2,700 service lines feeding residents from lead piping in Malden’s streets, out of a total of approximately 12,000 such service lines citywide.

The city is responsible for removing lead piping from its public water infrastructure (i.e. from the piping under streets). However, it is still up to residential owners to remove lead pipe that carries water from the street into their private property. The city has good, complete records of where lead piping is in the public infrastructure but it is up to private property owners to manage and maintain the water piping that enters their own property. In general, there are no complete records of the piping used for water connection into private residences. Costs for replacing these lines across private property vary, depending on distance, and obstructions like retaining walls, and porches.

Old houses, which are common around Malden, may also have lead piping in the interior of their property. Additionally, lead solder was commonly used “in the old days” to connect piping.

Fortunately, a number of steps can be taken to to reduce, eliminate, or avoid lead in tap water. The CDC recently updated their page on lead and drinking water here [note: page no longer exists, for a more recent page, see Lead in Drinking Water.]

In particular, note the references that “children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead exposure.” You can learn more about general aspects of Malden’s source of drinking water here.

Click here for the brochure customized for Malden residents.

Here are a few photos taken during a recent conversation with Malden’s engineering staff.


The Engineering Department has maps designating locations of water project work, and color-coded maps indicating the pressure status of fire hydrants. The 100-year-old cast iron pipe shown with the yellow corrosive rust build-up indicates one of the problems being solved. A new pipe – like the one marked as 8″ – shows how much flow is increased when a new pipe in installed – these newer pipers are also manufactured to resist corrosion.



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