On Dec. 22, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the Lead and Copper Revised Rule (LCRR), the first major revision in 30 years.

The rule for the first time requires public water supply (PWS) systems to monitor lead at primary schools and childcare centers. Community water systems (CWS) must conduct sampling at 20% of elementary schools and 20% of childcare facilities per year and conduct sampling at secondary schools on request in the first five years after the effective date of the rule and conduct sampling on request of all schools and childcare facilities thereafter. Sample results and public education materials must be provided to each sampled school and childcare facility, primacy agency and local or state health department. New to this rule is a requirement that PWS systems notify property owners within 24 hours of the results of sample analysis. Sample collection for compliance determination is also changing. Rather than a first liter sample, the fifth liter collected will be analyzed. Some experts think that this method is more representative of the actual water characteristics and that the previous sample method underrepresented the presence of lead in drinking water.  However, the rule does not enact a stricter limit on lead levels in drinking water that advocates argue is necessary to protect health. Some argue that this rule decreases the speed at which utilities will be on the hook to replace the lead service lines that connect homes to the water supply — a move critics say means lead tainted pipes will remain underground for another 30 years. However, PWS systems have significantly more requirements related to developing lead service line inventories, lead service line replacement and public information and education. The additional public education materials must be available upon request in a variety of languages to improve education of the public.

The rule also includes what EPA has termed “small system flexibility.” However, EPA has defined “small system” as serving under 10,000 which is a departure from the 3,300 population that has been used in the past. While in some cases this may provide improved water quality, this approach creates increased workload on the primacy agencies and water systems. EPA requires point of use (POU) systems in cases where a small system does not find and replace lead service lines. These POU systems must be purchased, installed, monitored, repaired, and replaced by the PWS system. Homeowners must be willing to allow PWS system workers into their homes in order for this approach to be successful.

Under the new LRCC, PWS systems will be required to replace just 3 percent of lead service lines each year rather than the previous 7 percent. EPA also will require cities to do the replacements for two years, rather than just one. The replacements are not required until a city detects high lead levels in 90 percent of the tested taps. EPA has argued the rule will help ensure that more pipes get replaced by requiring cities to develop and keep updated a lead service line inventory of their system. PWS systems are required to replace pipes even if later testing is below the action level. The rule does require cities to do full lead service line replacements, avoiding the temporary spike in lead level that can result from cutting into a lead line and replacing only the city-owned side of the line. The rule requires only replacement of the publicly owned parts of the line. There is nothing prohibiting property owns from replacement except the cost or a personal choice. Many PWS systems are looking at mechanisms to help fund private side replacements to assist property owners.

While leaving the 15 parts per billion (ppb) action level, the rule creates a 10 ppb “trigger” level, where PWS systems would be required to reevaluate their water treatment processes and possibly add corrosion-control chemicals to city water. Additionally, PWS systems must receive approval from the primacy agency to change source waters and conduct additional source water monitoring.

The LCRR removes calcium-based chemicals for optimized corrosion control and requires that any phosphate inhibitor used be orthophosphate. EPA estimates that this will lead to around 750 million pounds of nutrient loading to surface water bodies.  This comes at a time when water resource recovery facilities are already seeing significant treatment costs to meet lower permit limits for phosphorus. EPA acknowledges that in the required cost benefit analysis the impact of additional nutrients like harmful algae blooms, watershed management and eutrophication were not included. The same ratepayers who are paying for drinking water treatment upgrades will also have to pay for wastewater treatment system upgrades. While it is a positive action that EPA has released an updated lead and copper rule, there continues to be a disconnect in requirements between two key areas of the water program. Public health may be better protected if the water treatment sector is given the opportunity to develop new and innovative technologies that meet both the public health and environmental needs.

View the Final Lead and Copper Rule Supporting Documents:  https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/supporting-materials-final-revisions-lead-and-copper-rule

For a side-by-side comparison of the old and the new rule, go to this link:

https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-12/documents/reference_guide_for_pwss_12.21.20.pdf

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