Ways to take action and get ahead on LCRR projects
Erica Walker & Marcus Hagberg
The network of drinking water pipes below our feet has been neglected for far too long–but the tide is changing. According to the ASCE, the majority of existing drinking water distribution and collection networks will have to be either repaired or replaced by 2040. Without significant Federal support, the operational and capital costs associated with this “replacement era” are expected to be shouldered by local utilities and their customers.
Perhaps better than any other piece of drinking water infrastructure, the continued existence of Lead Service Lines (LSLs) clearly highlights the need for investment–not because service lines are more important than a water treatment plant or a water main, but because the public can easily understand that no one should be drinking from a leaded straw. The U.S. is finally on a path to replacing all LSLs, with the Federal government poised to invest in water infrastructure upgrades at proportions not seen in generations. Just two weeks ago, the Biden administration asked congress to make $45 billion available in grants for LSL replacement as part of the American Jobs Plan. To this end, the Biden administration seeks to remove all LSLs in 8 years.
In order to fully take advantage of these investments utilities will need to prepare and position their data. For example, as part of the Lead & Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR), over 70,000 drinking water systems across the country will be required to create and manage LSL inventories, add locations with known LSLs to their tiered sites list as a part of LCR compliance events, and may need to replace LSLs if compliance issues arise. Utilities who complete an inventory will be in the best position to take advantage of federal funding and will be more prepared for the new requirements. To facilitate and expedite action on finding and replacing LSLs, we’ve consolidated some of the most useful Federal funding avenues below.
The Federal government has taken emergency action to support State and Local governments through the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, part of the American Rescue Plan, which provides $350 billion in funding for state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments. The intended use of this funding is targeted, and one such target is to “make necessary investments in water [and] sewer infrastructure.”
$175 B (half) of the funding will be disbursed directly through the U.S. Treasury to State and local governments by mid-May 2021, with the remaining half of the funds scheduled to be disbursed by mid-May, 2022. The funds received by different government entities are required to be spent by December 31, 2024. An inventory is an important first step for utilities interested in using these funds for LSL management. Given the tight time frame, eligible infrastructure projects should be designed and scoped to a sufficient degree before the end of 2021 to be considered eligible for receipt of these funds. Standards, processes, and applicability will vary by State.
Federal funding sources for LSL management include grants and low interest loans. The Federal government, primarily through federal agencies (i.e., EPA, HUD, USDA), has established various programs through which funds are channeled to support drinking water infrastructure projects, including LSL replacement; these include but are not limited to:
Congress’ clear directive to increase funding to the SRF and WIIN grants is a welcomed development considering State and local governments are familiar with these processes and it builds upon substantial success to date.
In summary, there are several funding avenues available for utilities interested in finding and replacing LSLs and even more support from the Federal government is anticipated. These resources help utilities manage toward meeting the changing legislative and regulatory landscape, the most impactful being the multi-year steps needed in preparation for LCRR compliance. Below are five actions your utility can take to better prepared to secure funding for LSL replacement projects.