| EPA announces final Lead and Copper Rule
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EPA announces final Lead and Copper Rule

As soon as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its long-awaited Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) overhaul, AWWA volunteers and staff began examining details of the 409-page regulation, the newest and one of the most extensive revisions of federal regulation of lead in drinking water. 

utility crew replacing lead service lineCompliance deadlines under the new rule are largely three years away, but there are a number of substantial required tasks that warrant immediate action in order to be prepared.

In an AWWA public statement issued in response to the revisions, President Melissa Elliott said the Association is “committed to working toward a day when the potential for lead in drinking water is removed from every household and every community.”

“The surest way to protect against lead in water is to remove the sources of lead,” she added. “Water utilities will continue to be leaders in this monumental task, though removing lead service lines will require time and collaboration with property owners, manufacturers, state regulators, federal agencies, financial authorities, plumbers, code officials, local governments and many others.”

“I think everyone agrees the existing rule needed some improvements both from the public health standpoint and from the workability standpoint for utilities,” said David LaFrance, AWWA’s CEO, in a Dec. 22 video to members.

He said experts within AWWA’s membership are now evaluating the final rule in its entirety, and AWWA will use its information distribution channels to help the water sector understand the rule and what will be needed to meet its requirements.

Final rule: actual vs. proposed revisions

U.S. EPA logoIn November 2019, EPA proposed revisions to the LCR that were the first since 1991. AWWA submitted comments pointing out the opportunity for this rulemaking to make a significant contribution to public health protection and also noted a number of instances where improvements to the proposal were needed.

“The new LCR is an opportunity to build on decades of progress in reducing lead exposure,” stated AWWA’s response to the proposed revisions. “As EPA pointed out in its 2016 white paper on the LCR revisions, median blood levels for young children have decreased ten-fold since the mid-1970s. The number of the nation’s large drinking water systems exceeding the LCR action level has decreased by over 90 percent since the rule’s initial implementation.”

In broad terms, the final rule reflects many of the core elements of the November 2019 proposal, including:

  • A requirement that utilities develop lead service line (LSL) inventories regardless of service line ownership, a necessary first step to eventually create an LSL removal program. Utilities must always pursue full lead service line replacement when disturbing a lead service line and are required to replace the utility-owned portion of a lead service when a customer elects to replace the customer-owned portion of the line.
  • Service lines that must be replaced in full include lead service lines and galvanized iron pipes which have or have had lead pipe installed upstream.
  • Utilities are required to test elementary schools and childcare facilities.
  • The 15 µg/L lead action level (90th percentile lead level) remains unchanged, and there is a requirement for public notification within 24 hours if a system exceeds the lead action level.
  • Corrosion control treatment requirements include a new “trigger level” (a 90th percentile lead level of 10 µg/L), that when exceeded a system that currently employs corrosion control would be required to re-optimize existing treatment. Systems that do not currently treat for corrosion control would be required to conduct a corrosion control study.

Important differences in the final rule from the proposal include:

  • Requirement that a fifth-liter sample rather than a first-liter sample be used in the LCR monitoring at homes with lead service lines.
  • Revision of the proposed “find and fix” requirements triggered based on individual lead values above 15 µg/L.
  • Clarification of how galvanized iron pipe should be treated in developing inventories and sample plans.
  • After an initial round of lead monitoring in school and childcare facilities, sampling is continued upon request; high schools can also request sampling by water systems.

Considering impacts of final LCR

“It is true that the revisions will be expensive to implement, particularly in communities with a great deal of older housing and higher numbers of lead service lines,” said Steve Via, AWWA’s director of federal relations. “Community water systems will face the most extensive new requirements under the revised rule and, as public entities, will have to fund many of the rule requirements through water rates.” 

He explained that each system will have to determine how its community will approach funding full lead service line replacement. 

“The rule requires systems to provide the state with ‘a funding strategy for conducting lead service line replacements which considers ways to accommodate customers that are unable to pay to replace the portion they own,’” Via said. “EPA notes that there is some funding for full lead service line replacement available through federal grant and low-interest loan programs.”

Reactions to the final LCR

Initial news reports about the rule announcement often highlighted the apparent reduction in the minimum mandated replacement rate in the final rule from 7% to 3%.

Administrator Wheeler and other EPA officials explained that replacement of lead service lines does not always occur under the current rule, and the new rule will require full lead service line replacements.  

“New requirements triggering full lead service line replacement under the final rule will be a very substantial change for water systems and one that will require immediate preparations by water systems,” Via said.

The mayor of Flint, Mich., Sheldon Neeley, stated that the updated rule “is about progress, not perfection.”

In AWWA’s statement, Elliott stated, “AWWA renews its commitment to the removal of all lead service lines in their entirety. The first step in accomplishing that task is the development of lead inventories in every community, and we enthusiastically support the inclusion of that requirement in the final rule.”

Sign that says The Facts About LeadAWWA has many resources for addressing lead in water, including: