On October 10th, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the long-awaited proposed revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCRR) which was promulgated nearly 30 years ago under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Previous revisions to this rule were fairly minor and, while the new proposal stops short of requiring the removal of all Lead Service Lines and maintains an Action Level of 15 ppb, there are some meaningful and significant changes in its nearly 350 pages. A combination of regulation and public awareness regarding lead risks has been effective and, as the proposal points out, the median blood lead level among children in the US has decreased by 95% since 1976. However, even low levels of lead can pose risks to children’s developing brains and bodies and lead can also be harmful to adults. Based on our early review of the proposal, the LCCR seeks to further decrease lead exposure in the US through changes in the following key areas.
Public Water Systems would need to conduct & maintain location-based Lead Service Line Inventories as well as develop a Lead Service Line Plan with replacement goals
Many water systems do not have accurate records of where LSLs are located and, though some agencies have initiated voluntary and proactive inventorying initiatives, only four currently require them. The original LCR asked systems to conduct a materials evaluation, but the accuracy of these inventories is unclear and the data may not have been retained by state agencies. To address this fundamental gap, the LCRR asks Public Water Systems to conduct and maintain Lead Service Line Inventories. These investigations would be location-based and not simply an estimated count of the total LSLs. Where LSLs are present, systems would be required to update the inventory annually and to develop a Lead Service Line Plan, which would include annual replacement goals selected by each water utility in consultation with their state regulator.
Replacement activities would also be tied to concentration thresholds differently. Though the Action Level (AL) would remain at 15 ppb, the proposal introduces a new Trigger Level of 10 ppb. The primary goal of the Trigger Level is to provide utilities with an opportunity to identify treatment issues before a monitoring violation occurs, but if 90th percentile monitoring results are between 10-15 ppb, then the system would be required to actively pursue the replacement goal outlined in the LSL plan. Additionally, any system with an action level exceedance would immediately need to replace 3% of identified LSLs each year for a minimum of two years. The current rule requires 7% annual replacement but only after the system exceeds the AL, has installed Corrosion Control Technology (CCT) and still tests above the AL. Lastly, today, systems can stop updating service lines if monitoring results are below 15 ppb for two consecutive 6-month periods, and if they’re able to count resampled homes that test below 15 ppb as replacements. So while the mandatory replacement rate has decreased, systems could be required to start replacement sooner, carry out the work over longer periods of time, and pull more lead lines out of the ground.
Water systems would have to send consumer notice to individual homes above action level within 24 hours and notify homeowners with LSLs
Updates to the LCR continue to nudge transparency requirements forward, and the changes would be significant this time. Prior to 2007, when the EPA promulgated the Short-Term Revisions to the LCR, water systems were not required to share sampling results with individual consumers. This meant that the public only potentially saw information about lead in their drinking water as part of an annual Consumer Confidence Report. This report is usually sent in the mail and includes lots of other water quality information. Under the LCR revisions, water systems would have to send a consumer notice to any individual home with results above 15 ppb within 24 hours instead of 30 days. Additionally, if the 90th percentile concentration is above 15 ppb, utilities would need to inform all customers within 24 hours.
There are also transparency provisions surrounding inventories. Water systems must first publish lead service line inventories online and then notify customers still served by LSLs each year. The net effect of telling consumers where LSLs are located and reaching out to the community directly when corrosion control measures are ineffective would likely be an increase in public pressure to get lead lines out of the ground.
Community Water Systems would have to sample all public and private K-12 schools and childcare facilities built before 2014 every 5 years
One of the most significant and surprising changes in the proposal would require Community Water Systems to sample all public and private K-12 schools and childcare facilities built before 2014 within their service areas every 5 years. The stated goal of this provision is to inform school and childcare facilities whether remedial action is needed and to measure the effectiveness of corrosion control within premise plumbing systems. Each system would need to provide results to facility, state agencies and health departments, but the results would not be included in the 90th percentile calculation, which means high lead levels these facilities would not trigger regulatory action. Notably, systems would only be required to sample 5 fixtures at schools and 2 fixtures at childcare facilities, which is well below the average number of fixtures typically found in these buildings.
There are also a number of changes to the residential sampling requirements aimed at increasing the quality and representativeness of the monitoring results:
New proposal sets Trigger Level (10ppb) as new corrosion control treatment target
At its core, the Lead and Copper Rule is still primarily a treatment-based regulation. Its aim is to hold water utilities accountable for reducing the corrosivity of water as it flows through aging infrastructure and premise plumbing materials containing lead. Most systems serving more than 50,000 people were required to implement Corrosion Control Treatment (CCT) by 1997. The current CCT standards give state primacy agencies enforcement flexibility, especially for the nearly 49,000 water systems serving less than 50,000 people. For example, CCT studies can be used to inform a system’s treatment approach and are considered a best practice following changes to source water or in systems containing lead service lines, but these studies are just one tool an agency can use and are not always required.
Among a number of notable changes, the new proposal sets the Trigger Level (10 ppb) as the new treatment target for CCT, which means systems currently using CCT would have to re-optimize their treatment protocols using this lower threshold. Additionally, any system with an action level (15 ppb) exceedance would be required to implement CCT and the proposal removes a current off-ramp related monitoring results.
We will be following this proposal and considering its potential influence on the issue of lead reduction and impact on the water industry.