Complying with the New Lead and Copper Rule Revisions

Complying with the New Lead and Copper Rule Revisions

FEBRUARY 04, 2021

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized its first major update to the 1991 Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) on December 22, 2020. While the finalized Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR) was published in the Federal Register effective as of March 16, 2021, it is now in flux due to the Biden administration’s freeze on pending regulations. While we anticipate the effective date and some provisions within the rule may change, it is important to start familiarizing yourself with the revisions, which seek to better protect children and communities with more effective requirements. Specifically, the revisions will require water suppliers to:

  • Identify the most impacted areas;
  • Strengthen drinking water treatment practices; 
  • Replace lead service lines (LSLs); 
  • Increase sampling reliability;
  • Improve risk communication; and 
  • Protect children in schools and childcare facilities.

Even though this list may seem expansive, it is just the beginning of the changes the LCRR strives to achieve. Our drinking water experts are prepared to help utilities address the changes and provide safer drinking water to our communities. Whether that requires developing a comprehensive plan or modifying mitigation measures, we can identify the necessary changes to achieve compliance and, above all else, reduce the risk of exposure to lead. With experience developing plans for communities to adhere to the current LCR requirements, we are prepared to design and implement water treatment and distribution modifications, including optimum corrosion control treatment (OCCT) studies, asset management, and public outreach to help water systems meet the new rule’s requirements.

New Testing Requirements

The LCRR includes changes to lead sampling requirements designed to better protect public health. This approach helps target water from LSLs, not just the faucet or home plumbing. This approach helps identify where the highest levels of lead are and to take remedial action sooner, including accelerated LSL replacement, to reduce overall risk. 

For residences with LSLs from the water main to the home’s internal plumbing, the new rule requires testing the fifth liter of water drawn from the tap after a minimum of six hours stagnation. By drawing four liters of water first, then sampling the fifth, it is more likely that the sample is coming from the service line and not stagnant water within the home. Developing an inventory of existing LSLs will help the water system target homes with the greatest potential for elevated lead levels and assist in educating the public. 

Additionally, the LCRR includes the first federal requirement for sampling at childcare facilities and schools. It requires water systems to sample 20 percent of both childcare facilities and elementary schools, and to conduct sampling at secondary schools, if requested by the School Department, each year for a five-year testing cycle. After the initial five-year testing cycle, water systems will be required to sample schools and childcare facilities on a by-request basis and must provide results along with educational material to all sampled schools and childcare facilities. The aim is to protect children, who are considered more sensitive to lead exposure, and increase public awareness. 

Empowering Communities through Information

A critical component of the LCRR is providing individuals, communities, water systems, and local government with appropriate information to effectively act. Lead can leach from service lines, solder, and fixtures in older homes into tap water and become a significant source of lead exposure, potentially causing irreversible and lifelong health effects on children. To increase available public information, the LCRR requires cataloguing all LSLs, and the development of a complete inventory within the first three years. The inventory should be accessible public information, and utilities must notify customers with known or potential LSLs with guidance to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water. 

The new rule also seeks to educate and notify customers, within three days, if drinking water samples taken under the new regulation are found to have a lead concentration greater than 15 parts per billion (ppb). This early notification, which also applies to schools and childcare facilities, enables the user to take steps to reduce lead exposure immediately. The utility must then provide notification to customers with tap sample results below 15 ppb within 30 days. In the event of a systemwide action level exceedance, customers must be notified within 24 hours and provided educational material within 60 days. Water systems must also notify homeowners and building owners about opportunities to replace LSLs, including information about financial assistance programs, if available, to help pay for replacing the customer-owned portion of the service. Systems are also required to provide actionable information to schools and childcare facilities to help reduce risk.

Strengthening Treatment Requirements

One of the most notable aspects of the LCRR is the 10 ppb trigger level. Systems that test at this level with existing corrosion control treatment (CCT) programs will be required to augment their existing treatment. Water systems that do not have a CCT program will be required to conduct a corrosion control study. The LCRR does provide new alternatives to CCT for small systems, understanding that flexibility is important, and actions must make sense for the size of the community.

Developing a Replacement Program

Since the original LCR was released in 1991, only 1 percent utilities have replaced LSLs because of action level exceedances. The LCRR requires water systems to fully replace at least 3 percent of LSLs each year in the event 10 percent of sampling results are greater than 15 ppb. This approach will do more to remove LSLs than the previous rule by pushing for early action, closing loopholes, and strengthening replacement requirements. 

By cataloguing the system, utilities will have a clear understanding of the quantity of LSLs. This data will help inform development of a proactive plan to replace the infrastructure as soon as sample results trigger action. Replacement of LSLs can no longer be avoided simply through sampling or partial line replacements. The inventory and public education will also empower customers with information and options to replace their portion of the service line at any time, which in turn will require the system-owned portion to also be simultaneously replaced. 

Ahead of the Curve

Woodard & Curran’s drinking water and operations experts have already assisted public and private clients with drinking water sampling programs, remedial efforts, plans for replacing lead infrastructure, constructing or optimizing corrosion control treatment, and improving the overall water quality for consumers. 

When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio launched his Lead Free NYC Initiative in early 2019, the city’s parks department took immediate action. NYC Parks partnered with Woodard & Curran on a robust testing program to sample more than 3,500 interior and exterior drinking water fountains at its public spaces across the city. Existing asset data allowed the team to leverage GIS and compatible mobile applications to identify fountain sites, track stagnation, testing, and results in real time. NYC Parks took the additional step to have informational labels made that were affixed to each fountain after testing, directing users to check out the project status on a public facing website. 

In 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) assisted the city of Lynn in mapping facilities and baseline sampling for lead and copper at more than 600 fixture locations in 25 public school buildings. After receiving the baseline sampling results, the city hired our experts to plan for remedial measures and additional sampling. Woodard & Curran developed a phased approach to address fixtures where elevated lead levels were identified. By late 2019, the city replaced more than 400 drinking water and non-drinking water fixtures in its schools. The city took advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures to accelerate the replacement program. We continue to support the city’s long-term plan for managing lead in school drinking water. 

The coastal Massachusetts town of Winthrop is undertaking a phased program to fully replace all public and private LSL connections in their water distribution system. The town plans to replace up to 100 service lines each year, which will remove all lead-containing pipes from the distribution system in 10 to 15 years. In 2019, the town hired Woodard & Curran to support the first phase of the program, including design and bidding for the removal of LSLs at 100 properties within the same geographical area. Our funding team helped secure financing through the Massachusetts Water Authority Resource (MWRA) Lead Service Line Replacement Loan Program for this ambitious project. After a successful first year, our team completed the design and bidding to address another 100 LSLs in 2020.  

While LSLs are less common in western communities, we worked with El Dorado Irrigation District (EID) to conduct a bench study evaluating alternatives for their drinking water control technology. The district added zinc orthophosphate (ZOP) at its three water treatment plants to reduce in-house plumbing lead corrosion. As part of the study, our team assessed the feasibility of converting to a phosphoric acid corrosion inhibitor in lieu of ZOP to reduce zinc loading to the distribution system. This included development and implementation of the distribution system monitoring plan, designed to assess potential impacts related to distribution system corrosion with a particular focus on areas with asbestos cement piping. The project determined converting to phosphoric acid did not negatively impact distribution system water quality. Through coordination with the California Department of Public Health, we assisted EID in obtaining approval to change corrosion control techniques.

Preparing your utility

We anticipate the LCRR will have the greatest impact on communities with LSLs and those that narrowly achieved compliance under the existing LCR without corrosion control. As we wait for the Biden administration to review the LCRR and make any changes, utilities can take the following steps in the meantime to prepare for the new rules: 

  • Review the EPA Reference Guide for Public Water Systems Lead and Copper Rule Comparison to better understand pending change;
  • Gather existing data, such as service cards or building history, that may be helpful in creating a LSL inventory; and
  • Start conversations with other stakeholders, including schools and childcare facilities, to start planning for a five-year sampling cycle.

Our operations specialists are taking similar steps for the distribution systems we manage and our drinking water experts are available to help answer any questions to start planning for LCRR compliance. 

Author

National Practice Leader
Drinking Water

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