Originally Published in NRWQ, Quarter 3, 2020 – by Erica Walker: Water utilities work hard to ensure water is safe and affordable for their community members. On a normal day, rural utilities often struggle to achieve this balance, and changing regulations will make this even more challenging. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed revisions to the Lead & Copper Rule (LCRR) are the most recent example. For the first time in American history, the EPA is asking water utilities to take a meaningful look at Lead Service Lines (LSLs).
While lead rarely occurs naturally in drinking water sources, it can enter treated water from the delivery system. Although lead can be found in premise plumbing with solder and brass, LSLs connecting the home to the drinking water main are the chief contributors to high levels of lead in drinking water.
Survey research suggests there are between 6-10 million LSLs nationally, but many utilities do not have accurate or complete records of service line materials. One of the most important and challenging provisions in the proposed rule is a requirement for community water systems and non-transient non-community water systems to submit an annual Lead Service Line Inventory (LSLI), which details the location of every lead service line in the water system. Both the public side (typically from the main to the curb stop), and the private side (typically the curb stop to the house), must be included in the inventory. For systems serving fewer than 10,000 people, the EPA lists LSLIs as one of four compliance options.
Completing LSLIs are difficult for any utility, and they become even more challenging for rural utilities that often have fewer financial and human resources available to conduct and maintain these inventories.