AWWA, AMWA question feasibility, cost of Lead and Copper Rule Improvements

lead pipe

In recent public comments submitted on the proposed Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI) rule, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) reiterated its support for removing lead service lines across the country, but recommended “critical revisions” to make the rule feasible and affordable.

“Over the last several decades, the drinking water community has made tremendous strides in reducing lead levels in drinking water,” AWWA wrote in comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which announced its LCRI proposal on Nov. 30, 2023. “More can and should be done. The next steps in drinking water policy to further lead risk reduction must be credible, legally sound, truly feasible, and appropriate to the challenge at hand.”

The public comment period on LCRI proposal concluded Feb. 5. AWWA wrote that EPA’s estimated cost of the rule – between $3 and $4.9 billion annually – is higher than any previous regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), and the costs of compliance will be directly passed to water utility customers. According to AWWA estimates, the total cost of removing all lead service lines in the United States could exceed $90 billion. Noting that many community water systems are small and have limited resources, AWWA stressed that many communities will face financial, logistical and personnel challenges and may be unable to meet EPA’s timeline.

AWWA said it supports EPA’s intention to continue with a “treatment technique” to control lead and copper, through which water systems actively manage the corrosivity of the water to minimize the possibility of lead getting into drinking water, rather than attempting to establish a maximum contaminant level at faucets within homes.

AWWA said that chief among its concerns is the fact the rule equates community water systems having “access” to private property with a system having “control” over the service line on private property. Because ownership of lead service lines is often split between a water system and private property owners, accessing pipes on private property is often a barrier to complete service line removal. AWWA stressed that control “is based on ownership. The definition of what is ‘under the control’ of water systems as described in SDWA does not include piping not owned by the water system, even when the actual owner uses their ‘control’ to grant ‘access’ to a water system.”

The key provisions in the LCRI include:

  • Achieving 100% Lead Pipe Replacement within 10 years.
  • Locating legacy lead pipes.
  • Improving tap sampling.
  • Lowering the Lead Action Level from 15 parts per billion to 10 ppb
  • Strengthening protections to reduce exposure.

AWWA said these changes will make the action level much harder to consistently achieve. AWWA’s comments stress that EPA has not demonstrated that water systems targeted by the rule will be able to consistently comply with the lower action level.

“AWWA hopes that these comments will assist EPA as it formulates a final LCRI that achieves additional risk reduction while recognizing the additional resource-intensive challenges facing water systems, including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), cybersecurity, climate change and aging infrastructure,” the association wrote.

Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies Comments

Additionally, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, representing large drinking water systems, said in public comments that it has concerns over the potential implications of the proposed rule on private property access, the overall funding challenge and substantial public notification requirements. AMWA said a balanced communication strategy is needed to prevent public confusion and maintain trust in water systems actively engaged in replacement initiatives.

AMWA called attention to the differing circumstances water systems across the country face, and cautioned against “relying solely on anecdotal examples that may not represent the broader challenges facing the nation’s water utilities.” The association also underscored the financial realities of publicly owned water systems, highlighting the disproportionate impact of increased costs on low-income communities.

“In the case of the LCRI, addressing the critical issue of lead exposure is important but must be balanced with a pragmatic rule that water systems can implement successfully,” said AMWA CEO Tom Dobbins. “We urge EPA to consider AMWA’s recommendations to build a more achievable, practical, and enforceable rule. Our commitment lies in finding effective solutions that safeguard public health and prioritize the needs of the communities we serve.”

AMWA said EPA must promulgate the LCRI prior to the Oct. 16, 2024, Lead and Copper Rule Revisions compliance date to avoid a scenario in which water systems invested resources to comply with the current LCRR that the LCRI subsequently deems irrelevant.

Making Progress

According to AWWA, implementation of the Lead and Copper Rule over the past 25 years has resulted in major improvements to public health; the number of the nation’s largest drinking water systems with a 90th percentile sample value exceeding the LCR action level of 15 parts per billion has decreased by more than 90 percent since the initial implementation of the LCR. An EPA white paper in 2016 on the LCR revisions states that median blood levels for young children have decreased ten-fold since the mid-1970s.

Sources: AWWA, AMWA

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