NEWARK (CBSNewYork) – After years of controversy surrounding lead in the water, Newark is taking a big step toward making its drinking water safer for residents.

Sporting a hard hat and a golden shovel, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka broke ground on a water infrastructure modernization plan.

Baraka acknowledged it will be a long road to fix the systemic problem, but said it’s a start.

“Bittersweet for the city of Newark. Bittersweet in the sense that we still have to deal with lead service lines in our city, but we have been working hard to get to this point,” he said.

A result of the joint efforts of the state and city, Baraka says the $78 million raised will go toward replacing 15,000 city lead service lines. All of them are in residential neighborhoods with a long lead history.

“You don’t really know what you’re going to find once you get the hole open,” said Amanda Gentle of Roman E&G.

Workers say many of the lines in Newark are old and cover in corrosion.

The houses on Ridge Street are over 100 years old, and residents told CBS2’s Tara Jakeway they’ve had problems with their water before. It took the ceremony happening on their block Wednesday for them to come out and sign up.

Jakeway spoke with a few people who have joined the 1,800 people that already have signed up.

Marcia McGowan joined the list to get new pipes through the lead service line replacement program.

LINK: Sign Up For The Lead Service Line Replacement Program

“I signed up and I hope to be one of the next houses to get this done. I think this is an important issue. We don’t want to be Flint, Michigan.”

While there’s some relief on Ridge Street, the program is first come, first served, and it isn’t free. It will cost $1,000 homeowners to change out the lead lines. Kristin Burks-Millings says that’s a steal.

“We found out what it would cost me and my husband – $7,000-$8,000 to change the lead service line ourselves, and that was very expensive,” she said.

The lines that run from a house to the street are the owner’s responsibility. The process at each home takes about four hours.

Newark residents are urged to take the following three steps:

  1. Call 973-733-6303 to find out if you have a lead service line. Not all residences in Newark are affected. The Newark Water Department is available to provide this information.
  2. If you have a lead service line, begin using filtered or bottled water immediately. “Flushing” – running the water from the tap for a few minutes – will not work in this case. Newark is distributing water filters to affected residents.
  3. Get children’s blood tested for lead levels. Talk to your health care provider or the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness at 973-733-5323.