U.S. EPA releases final Lead and Copper Rule revisions Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on Tuesday announced the finalization of the revised Lead and Copper Rule . The rule will not be official until it is published in the Federal Register . AWWA President Melissa Elliott issued a public statement on the rule. AWWA’s committees will evaluate the rule and provide additional information to assist the sector in responding. While the final rule will require additional study to fully understand, it mirrors the elements of the proposed rule. It continues to contain requirements for lead service line inventories, full-lead service line replacement, and lead service line replacement plans; evaluation of corrosion control practices based on a “trigger level” of 10 µg/L (90th percentile value); tier-1 public notice following a lead action level exceedance; and revised monitoring plans focusing on homes with lead service lines. Important changes identified so far from the proposed rule include: 1) use of a fifth liter sample when in-home compliance monitoring sampling is in a property with a lead service line and 2) focusing school water sampling in elementary schools and not including high schools. EPA made significant changes to clarify the lead inventory and compliance monitoring sample site requirements with respect to service lines made of galvanized iron. Water bill assistance included in consolidated U.S. budget bill The U.S. House and Senate this week passed a massive consolidated budget and pandemic relief bill that includes $638 million to help low-income customers pay their water bills. In addition, the bill provides $25 billion in rental assistance funding which may also be used to help with utility bills. AWWA and other water associations had been seeking assistance for customers and utilities suffering significant revenue losses since last spring. AWWA and five other water associations issued a joint statement on Monday: “The water community and its customers are grateful to Congress for including $638 million in assistance to low-income water customers in the final Fiscal Year 2021 Consolidated Appropriations bill. While communities and utilities work to offer customer assistance and flexibility to those in need, the scope of the public health and economic crisis requires a federal hand. We look forward to working with the 117th Congress and incoming Biden Administration to further assist customers in need and local utilities that are suffering under the effects of these crises.” The 5,593-page bill is the largest is congressional history. It combines an omnibus spending bill for the remainder of fiscal year 2021 with pandemic relief, biannual water resources legislation and some extensions of tax provisions. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will administer the program for water customers (see pages 1096-97 of the bill text). The massive bill, which awaits President Trump’s signature to become law, also provides more than $1.1 billion for the drinking water state revolving loan fund program and $60 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, both about level with last year’s funding, as well as around $53 million for scientific and regulatory work on PFAS, in order to establish drinking water and cleanup standards. CDC panel alters prioritization of vaccines for U.S. water sector The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revised its recommendations for vaccine prioritization, resulting in water sector workers being moved into a slightly lower category. In essence, ACIP split what was Phase 1b into two parts, in which Phase 1b is downsized to “persons aged 75 years or older and frontline essential workers.” That moves water sector employees into Phase 1c, as members of the “other essential workers” category. This change is based on analysis by the ACIP that seeks to maximize protection for persons with high risk and greatest public exposure potential. This change does not alter the recommendation urging utilities to contact their state and local public health agencies to ensure their staff are properly prioritized in their community’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution. As a result of this engagement, several utilities have indicated that their staff have been vaccinated. At the end of the day, the allocation decision still resides with state and local health officials. The availability of COVID-19 vaccinations may raise questions about the applicability of various equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. The EEO laws do not interfere with or prevent employers from following CDC or other federal, state and local public health authorities’ guidelines and suggestions. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently updated the guidance , and employers are encouraged to review Section K among others regarding how to handle issues with staff. EPA updates fall 2020 regulatory agenda EPA has updated the Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Action for Fall 2020 , which includes significant actions for the water sector not listed previously. This agenda provides a list of EPA regulatory actions and the schedule for these actions. It now includes an EPA action to develop “ Effluent Limit Guidelines and Standards for PFAS discharges ,” which was previously identified as a priority by the PFAS Action Plan . Based on this new agenda, EPA will publish a notification for this rule by early 2021. Other actions include the “ Increasing Consistency and Transparency in Considering Benefits and Costs in the Safe Drinking Water Act ” and “ Designating PFOA and PFOS as CERCLA Hazardous Substances .” EPA publishes interim guidance for PFAS materials EPA has published a proposed “ Interim Guidance on the Destruction and Disposal of Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances and Materials Containing Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances.” The guidance provides information about different technologies that may be feasible and effective for the destruction and/or disposal of PFAS and PFAS-containing materials. Publication of this guidance was required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal year 2020. The guidance specifically includes a description of materials related to water treatment residuals, such as granular activated carbon or reverse osmosis treatment brine. AWWA staff is reviewing the document and will provide comments to EPA by the Feb. 21 due date. DOE finalizes changes to showerhead conservation standards The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has finalized a change to showerhead conservation standards. This final rule, which takes effect Jan. 15, allows product manufacturers to sell showerheads that in certain circumstances use more than 2.5 gallons per minute (GPM) of water, provided that each individual nozzle meets the 2.5 GPM standard. This change is controversial, although its impact is not clear because it is not certain there is much demand for products that would now be allowed under the new rules. Utilities should consider reviewing their conservation programs to identify whether or not program changes are necessary. The DOE sets only minimum conservation standards for certain products, a regulatory framework distinct from EPA’s voluntary WaterSense program, which is not impacted by the DOE change. Additional source water protection funding expected The federal Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is expected to issue a new round of funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program’s Alternative Funding Arrangements (RCPP AFA) applications in January. AWWA has long advocated that utilities participate in NRCS agricultural conservation programs due to their ability to assist with source water protection efforts and build collaborative partnerships with these important stakeholders. The RCPP AFA program allows for watershed-scale projects that can benefit source water protection while simultaneously meeting other resource needs on and off the agricultural producer’s lands. An excellent example of a project undertaken using this mechanism is the Sebago Clean Waters initiative, for which the Portland Water District in Maine is the lead partner. This project will bring $18.5 million in investments to protect source waters, including $8 million from NRCS. Members interested in RCPP should contact their NRCS state conservationist , see the RCPP site , review AWWA’s materials and contact Adam Carpenter in the AWWA D.C. office if they would like more assistance with developing the application. Although a new round of funding is expected in early 2021, the exact date of the notice, the deadline and the total funding available are not yet known.