Off to the Races

March 25, 2022

The clock is ticking for Lead & Copper Rule Revisions compliance

About the author:

Megan Glover is the founder and CEO of 120Water, a solution used by water professionals across the country to manage critical lead and drinking water programs. She was named to the 2021 Inc. Female Founders 100 list. Glover can be reached at [email protected].

After a year-long delay for review and comment, the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR) became effective on December 16, 2021.

The new rule, which provides valuable improvements to public health, will move forward as-is. The Biden Administration also promised other federal efforts inclusive of additional rule-making called the Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI) to further strengthen LCRR, which the administration hopes to finalize in the coming years.     

In the meantime, water utilities are facing a deadline of October 16, 2024, to comply with LCRR, meaning the sprint to meet the deadline is just two and a half years away.

With most water professionals having been in a “wait and see mode” during the review process, this timeclock puts an immense amount of pressure on water systems and regulators across the country.

A recent study by 120Water revealed that the majority of water systems are not ready to tackle the new rule. More than half of the systems surveyed said they have no data on lead service lines (LSL), the capstone component of the new rule, and 88% said they could not meet the requirement to make LSL inventories publicly available in real-time.

Below, we have outlined the most crucial provisions of LCRR and what they mean for water professionals.

Lead Service Line Inventories Are Required

The crux of LCRR is also the most resource-intensive: creating a “location-based” inventory of publicly- and privately-owned lead service line materials, including all pipes and connections. Systems must produce an inventory of all service line materials with a location identifier, such as an address, intersection or landmark.

Systems must also identify service lines of unknown materials and unknown service lines will be treated as lead service lines until a system can prove otherwise.

Inventories must be submitted to state regulators for approval by October 16, 2024, and must be updated either annually or triennially after that, depending on the size of the system.

Water systems serving a population of more than 50,000 must make the inventory public, and larger systems of 100,000 or more persons must make the inventory available online.

Annual LSL Replacement Plan

Once the inventory is complete and lead service or unknown service lines are identified, systems must develop an LSL replacement plan. The plan must demonstrate how the utility will replace at least 3% of LSLs annually.

As part of this plan, utilities must sample locations where LSLs have been replaced within six months to confirm the water supply is safe, as well as provide filtered pitchers to those residents for six months following replacement.

Utilities also will be required to replace any publicly-owned LSL within 45 days of a customer replacing a private-side LSL.

Revised Water Sampling Rules

Under the new rule, water sampling tier sites must be prioritized based on the LSL inventory results. The tier sites must be composed of known lead service lines or unknown lead service lines. The LCRR changes the definitions of monitoring tiers:

  • Tier 1 includes single-family homes served by LSLs.
  • Tier 2 includes multifamily residences with LSLs.
  • Tier 3 includes single-family homes with galvanized service lines downstream from an LSL, which must be replaced.
  • Tier 4 includes single-family homes with copper pipes and lead solder installed before the 1986 ban.
  • Tier 5 includes locations where plumbing is similar to other sites served.

All Tier locations serving a known LSL require water sampling using the practice of first and fifth liter draws. Under this new sampling process, residents will receive five 1-liter bottles to collect water from the tap. The 1st and 5th liter will be analyzed for compliance. The EPA has provided very detailed instructions on sampling protocol and it will be imperative that water systems have a clear communication plan to and for their residents to ensure the accuracy and completion of these samples.

New 10 PPB Trigger Level

While the “Action Level” of 15 ppb remains the same, LCRR adds a “Trigger Level” of 10 ppb. Because the sampling protocol has been adapted to collect samples closer to the lead service lines, many believe most water systems will inevitably find themselves hitting this trigger level.

At the trigger level of 10 ppb a series of actions are required of water systems:   

  • There will be a percentage (as determined by state and system) of LSLs that will need to be fully replaced annually.
  • Water systems without CCT must conduct
  • a study.
  • Water systems with CCT must alter.

The Find & Fix Rule

In addition to the trigger event, there is also a new concept called “Find and Fix.” If an individual sample result exceeds 15 ppb, the water system will be required to resample at that location and must attempt to diagnose the source of lead and make recommendations for remediation.

Finally, if the action level of 15 ppb is exceeded, water systems are required to fully replace 3% of their LSLs annually. Partial replacements will not count towards that 3% mandate.

School & Childcare Sampling Instituted

New to LCRR, utilities will be required to sample at least 20% of all public and private elementary schools and 20% of all childcare facilities built before 2014 in the service area annually, resulting in every school being tested within five years. Any secondary school can request sampling and the utility is required to perform it.

Utilities will be required to provide results to the facility, state agencies, and health departments within 30 days of receipt of the results.

Increased Communications & Reporting

LCRR will require stricter and more frequent communication with residents and the community at large.

During the sampling period, if the 90th percentile levels are greater than 15 ppb, all customers in the service area must be notified within 24 hours of sample completion. This means utilities must have the means for near-instant communication, as well as customer data such as email addresses and cell phone numbers for SMS.

Customers with an individual lead sample result greater than 15 ppb must be notified within three days, compared to the previous 30-day requirement. This can be done electronically, by phone, or using another method approved by the state.

In addition, all customers served by LSLs must be notified annually.


Taking the First Step

The Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA) estimates that LCRR could cost more than $47 billion to enact.

While funding is available in the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (now known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law) signed into law in November, most grants cannot be tapped by a utility until it has information about its system and what it will take to comply with the rule. This will require an LSL inventory in order to fully understand how to address lead in their community.

Utilities can start their inventory by conducting an internal records review of tap cards and work orders to determine if information exists about service line materials. Other detection methods include the year service lines were installed and their diameters. Lines installed prior to the 1970s and pipes with smaller diameters may signal an LSL.

Using a system created especially for water utilities to house data and create workflows to meet compliance rules will be crucial, as well as filling in the gaps with information from sampling efforts and visual inspections during service calls. Some utilities have found success in asking homeowners to upload photos of their plumbing materials.

Finally, employing statistical modeling and predictive analytics tools can help determine the most likely areas for the location of lead pipes.

Since there are no known safe levels of lead, LCRR is a great first step in improving the safety of our drinking water supply. Maintaining compliance will require a significant effort on the part of water utilities and regulators but innovative solutions and best practices to comply more efficiently exist, systems just need to seek out supportive partners. Together, we can get the lead out and enhance the public health of our communities.

About the Author

Megan Glover