From The Editor | December 14, 2016

Can The DWSRF Solve The Lead Crisis?

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

Since 1996, the federal Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) program has provided financial support to water systems around the country to help ensure safe drinking water. DWSRF funds have been accessed for myriad reasons and utilized in countless ways—to the tune of $32.5 billion this year alone—the only stipulation being that they somehow support clean water reaching consumers. Lately, that has utilities wondering how they can utilize the program to combat lead contamination.

Most readers of this site will be all too familiar with the problem of lead in the nation’s drinking water. The substance’s presence can be traced to infrastructure that was implemented decades ago, but in many cases has only made itself known to regulators and the public recently. Though fervor surrounding the issue has subsided since lead contamination was discovered in Flint, MI, it continues to seep into drinking water around the country.

In recognition of the pervasiveness of the problem, last month the U.S. EPA’s DWSRF and sustainable systems teams turned the attention of their webinar series on accessing the DWSRF to how communities can use it to combat lead.

“EPA continues to work with drinking water professionals and states to identify topics that are of interest and require additional training and knowledge,” an EPA spokesperson said. “As a result of this feedback, EPA conducted a series of webinars to address lead in drinking water.”

Being a federal funds program, the DWSRF can be notoriously difficult to access, not to mention utilize effectively. The EPA sees its webinars as a way to help concerned parties navigate the details and use the money appropriately.

“The webinar series assists water professionals, public officials, and involved citizens with knowledge and skills related to the DWSRF and its flexible infrastructure and non-infrastructure eligibility,” the spokesperson said. “States must strategically use these dynamic eligibilities to maximize public health protection from the DWSRF resources.”

There are several effective ways that the DWSRF can be used to address lead contamination worth considering.

“The DWSRF-eligible projects and activities related to lead include lead service replacement; corrosion control infrastructure; corrosion control studies; identification of lead service line locations; and non-routine, not compliance-related lead testing at schools and child care centers,” said the spokesperson.

When asked how concerned communities or plant operators should go about initiating these projects, the EPA recommended that they contact their state’s DWSRF program.

“Each of the 50 states and Puerto Rico have established DWSRF programing, making this an established and trusted source for communities across the nation,” they said.

The agency compares the program to an “infrastructure bank” that provides low interest loans for drinking water projects that are paid back into the revolving fund. The EPA awards DWSRF grants based on the results of its most recent Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment. Usually, states prioritize the project applications that they receive from local water systems, so getting money for a specific project is a matter of proving its value to human health and effectiveness at meeting EPA regulations.

Perhaps the highest profile example of a state accessing DWSRF money to address lead contamination can be found in Wisconsin, which is replacing lead service lines in some of its most underserved communities.

Accessing DWSRF funds to address lead contamination is a complicated matter of outlining a viable remediation project, lobbying state programs, and proving effectiveness on a federal level. It is daunting but progress can, and must, be made.