AMWA: Proposed Lead and Copper Rule presents significant changes for utilities

lead pipe

By Diane VanDe Hei


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in October released its long-awaited proposal for the revised Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). The proposal includes many far-reaching provisions that, if put into law, will have a lasting impact on how water utilities in the United States address lead in their systems.

The proposal is in the form of a pre-publication, because it has not yet been published in the Federal Register. EPA anticipates this occurring imminently.

One big change requires each water system to conduct a lead service line (LSL) inventory, or demonstrate the absence of LSLs in their system, within three years of the rule’s publication. LSL inventories must be updated annually, and all systems with known or possible LSLs must develop LSL replacement plans. Water systems serving greater than 100,000 people must make their inventories available online.

Another significant provision in the proposal is the addition of a new 10 parts-per-billion (ppb) “trigger level,” that will require water systems to take lead remediation actions even if they do not surpass the existing 15 ppb action level, which will remain in place. According to the proposal, if the 90th percentile of a utility’s sampling results exceed the trigger level, a medium or large system must perform studies to determine possibilities for “re-optimizing” their corrosion control treatment (CCT), if the utility already utilizes CCT. If required by the state primacy agency, a system not using CCT must conduct a study to determine the appropriate CCT solution. Large systems that go over the trigger level must work with their state primacy agencies to set targets for an LSL replacement program.

Even as the proposal retains the 15 ppb action level that has been required for decades, changes are in store for systems that exceed it. When that happens, the proposal would require systems serving at least 10,000 people to replace three percent of LSLs per year for four consecutive six-month monitoring periods. This is fewer than the current rule’s seven percent replacement target, but the new rule would only give credit for full LSL replacements – partial LSL replacements would no longer count.

Additionally, “test-outs,” where utilities are currently able to retest a site and take it out of the replacement program if it tests below 15 ppb, would also be excluded from mandated replacement targets. And once replacements take place, utilities must provide homeowners with pitcher filters and replacement cartridges for three months, as well as following up with additional tap sampling three to six months after the replacement has occurred.

In cases where the action level is exceeded and a utility does not use CCT, the utility must complete CCT installation regardless of subsequent 90th percentile readings. If a utility does use CCT, its program must be re-optimized.

If a utility learns it has exceeded the 15 ppb action level for the 90th percentile, the proposal would require notification of all customers within 24 hours, which is far more strict than the current requirement to notify individuals at tested taps within 30 days. As with current law, utilities must continue to include health information about lead in annual consumer confidence reports, but utilities must also provide information about their lead service line replacement programs.

For the first time, the rule would require utilities to conduct annual lead in drinking water testing at schools and childcare centers within their service areas. However, a utility’s responsibility would end after providing the facility with the sampling results and would not be required to support any lead mitigation activities.

Finally, the proposal would require a water system to replace the public portion of an LSL within 45 days upon receiving notification of a customer’s intent to replace their privately-owned portion of the line. When possible, utilities are encouraged to make a good faith effort to coordinate replacement of both the public and private side of the line with the customer to minimize disturbances of lead particles.

These are just some of the more significant components of the proposal. There are many more details that utilities should evaluate and comment upon once the proposal officially appears in the Federal Register. Once that happens, the public will have 60 days to offer comments to the agency.

EPA says it hopes to promulgate a final rule in 2020. The rule would become effective three years later. For more information, visit EPA’s LCR webpage on epa.gov.


Diane VanDe Hei is the CEO of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), the organization representing the largest publicly-owned drinking water systems in the United States. AMWA’s membership serves more than 140 million Americans with safe drinking water. AMWA is the nation’s only policy-making organization solely for metropolitan drinking water suppliers. VanDe Hei is a frequent contributor to Water Finance & Management.

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