The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is promulgating a rule that makes several targeted regulatory revisions to the existing national primary drinking water regulations (NPDWRs) for lead and copper. The purpose of the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) is to protect public water system consumers from exposure to lead and copper in drinking water. The revisions to the LCR are intended to enhance the implementation of the LCR in the areas of monitoring, treatment, customer awareness and lead service line replacement; improve compliance with the public education requirements of the LCR and ensure drinking water consumers receive meaningful, timely and useful information needed to help them limit their exposure to lead in drinking water.
The LCR’s four basic requirements:
1. requiring water suppliers to optimize their treatment system to control corrosion in customers’ plumbing;
2. determining tap water levels of lead and copper for customers who have lead service lines or lead-based solder in their plumbing system;
3. ruling out the source water as a source of significant lead levels; and,
4. if lead action levels are exceeded, requiring the suppliers to educate their customers about lead, and suggesting actions they can take to reduce their exposure to lead through public notices and public education programs.
If a water system, after installing and optimizing corrosion control treatment, continues to fail to meet the lead action level, it must begin replacing the lead service lines under its ownership.
The entities potentially affected by this final rule are public water systems that are classified as community water systems (e.g., systems that provide water to year-round residents in places like homes or apartment buildings) or non-transient, non-community water systems (e.g., systems that provide water to people in locations such as schools, office buildings, restaurants, etc.); state primacy agencies; and local and tribal governments.
The rule addresses confusion about sample collection by clarifying language that speaks to the number of samples required and the number of sites from which samples should be collected. The rule also modifies definitions for monitoring and compliance periods to make it clear that all samples must be taken within the same calendar year. Finally, the rule adds a new reduced monitoring requirement, which prevents water systems above the lead action level to remain on a reduced monitoring schedule.
The new rule requires water systems to provide advanced notification and gain the approval of the primacy agency for intended changes in treatment or source water that could increase corrosion of lead. The primacy agency must approve the planned changes using a process that will allow regulators and water systems to take as much time as needed to consult about potential problems.
While many water utilities indicate that they provide the results of monitoring to customers, there is no requirement in the regulations for them to do so. All utilities must now provide a notification of tap water monitoring results for lead to owners and/or occupants of homes and buildings who consume water from the taps that are part of the utility’s sampling program.
The current regulations allow utilities to consider lead service lines that test below the action level as “replaced” for the purposes of compliance. The new rule adds a requirement for utilities to reconsider previously “tested-out” lines when resuming lead service line replacement programs. This provision only applies to systems that initiated a lead service line replacement program; complied with the lead action level for two consecutive monitoring periods and discontinued the lead service line replacement program; and subsequently were re-triggered into lead service line replacement. All previously “tested-out” lines would then have to be tested again or added back into the sampling pool and considered for replacement.
EPA requires water systems to deliver public education materials after a lead action level exceedance. The new rule changes the content of the message to be provided to consumers, changes how the materials are delivered to consumers, and the timeframe in which materials must be delivered. Also, there are changes to the delivery requirements, which include additional organizations that systems must partner with to disseminate the message to at-risk populations, as well as changes in the ways information is disseminated to ensure water systems reach consumers when there is an action level exceedance. The new rule also requires educational statements about lead in drinking water to be included in all Consumer Confidence Reports. Many of the changes to the public education requirements were based on recommendations from the National Drinking Water Advisory Council.
The total annual direct costs to water systems are estimated between $5.4 and $5.7 million. The majority of these costs to water systems are from the monitoring and public education requirements of the revisions. For primacy agencies, the annual direct costs are estimated between $471,000 and $657,000. The majority of the costs to primacy agencies arise from the review and approval requirement for treatment changes included in the revisions. The initial one-time costs for water system and state personnel to familiarize themselves with the rule changes and begin implementation are approximately $11 million for water systems, and $1.7 million for states.