EPA Moves to Overhaul Lead and Copper Drinking Water Rule

60-day comment period is now open, comments due Jan. 13, 2020

Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released proposed revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule to reduce lead exposure in drinking water.

Under the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations: Proposed Lead and Copper Rule Revisions, the agency aims to identify the most impacted areas, strengthen treatment requirements, replace lead service lines, increase sample reliability, improve risk communication and protect children in schools.

This action represents the first major overhaul of the Lead and Copper Rule since its inception in 1991. The rule is applicable to all 68,000 public water systems, requiring them to sample water from households with plumbing materials that contain lead or copper and take action to reduce exposure to these harmful metals in drinking water.

Specifically, the proposed rule would:

  • Maintain the current Maximum Contaminant Level Goal of zero and the Action Level of 15 parts per billion.
    • Systems that are above 15 parts per billion will be required to replace a minimum of three percent of the number of lead service lines annually.
  • Establish a “trigger level” at 10 parts per billion.
    • Require water systems to conduct outreach and initiate lead service line replacement programs when lead levels are above the proposed trigger level of 10 parts per billion.
    • Require water systems that are above 10 parts per billion but at or below 15 parts per billion to work with their state to set an annual goal for replacement.
  • Require all water systems to prepare and update a lead service line inventory.
  • Require water systems to replace the water system-owned portion of a lead service line when a customer chooses to replace their customer-owned portion of the line.
  • Require water systems to notify customers of an action level exceedance within 24 hours.
  • Change tap sampling procedures, including requiring community water systems to sample drinking water outlets at each school and childcare facility served by the system.

Under the proposed rule, small systems that exceed the trigger and action levels will have flexibility with respect to treatment and lead service line replacement actions. The proposed rule does not change any requirements related to copper in drinking water. EPA estimates that the total cost of the rule to public water systems will approximately be between $450 million and $675 million annually.

Last year, EPA held a Federalism Consultation with state and local government organizations.  NLC submitted comments following the briefing recommending that the agency provide financial and technical assistance, including through grants and zero-interest loans, to help local governments and residents undertake required upgrades in an affordable manner and to identify best practices to replace lines in a holistic fashion. NLC also recommended that the EPA undertake education campaigns on the importance of testing their drinking water and resources on how to address potential problems.

The proposed rule is part of the Trump Administration’s Federal Action Plan to Reduce Childhood Lead Exposure. In conjunction with the proposed rule, EPA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have launched a new website that summarizes available federal programs that help finance or fund lead service line replacement, including the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, WIFIA and CDBG. The website also includes case studies demonstrating how cities have successfully leveraged federal resources to support lead service line replacement.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, 108 communities have publicly set a goal of eliminating lead service lines on public and private property. Seven communities have completed lead service line replacement programs: Framingham, MA; Lansing, MI; Madison, WI; Medford, OR; Sioux Falls, SD; Springfield, MA; Spokane, WA.

On Dec. 5, EPA will host a webinar focused on lead service line replacement for small public water system. Click here to learn more and register.

EPA is accepting comments on the proposed rule through February 12, 2020. NLC joined with several other organizations to request a comment extension.

Cities and towns that wish to submit comments can do so through the Federal Register [Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2017-0300]. NLC intends to submit comments and encourages local leaders to do the same. Please share any comments submitted with NLC.

Carolyn-Berndt-small.jpgAbout the Author: Carolyn Berndt is the program director for infrastructure and sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.