From The Editor | October 29, 2018

Getting Serious About Lead Service Line Replacement

Pete Antoniewicz

By Pete Antoniewicz

WASA big idea

It has been 32 years since the amended Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) banned the installation of lead pipes in water systems nationwide. Unfortunately, that decision has not yet translated into action for every lead service line (LSL) installed before that point. Fortunately, someone has done a lot of legwork toward getting a handle on that process. Here is a preview of the help they have to offer.

Identifying The Scope Of The Problem

As much as has been learned about the effects of lead in drinking water as a result of the Flint, MI water crisis, progress toward eliminating the causes has been slow — in part relating to delays in the U.S. EPA finalizing long-term revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR).

Complying with the requirements of the LCR, however, is just a first step toward dealing with the problem. This executive report on the contribution of service lines and plumbing fixtures to lead and copper compliance issues concludes: “Corrosion control treatment is likely still the best and most cost-effective way to comply with the requirements of the LCR. However, the consumer’s portion of the lead service line, which is beyond the jurisdiction of local water utilities, remains an important unresolved source of lead. The most effective way to reduce the total mass of lead measured at the tap is to replace the entire lead service line, followed by replacement of lead sources in the premise piping, the faucet, and then the meter.”

Industry groups have picked up the ball, but much remains to be done to get it across the goal line. It has been two years without a final determination since the last EPA white paper. Fortunately, other influences in the water industry are moving forward.

The Environmental Defense Fund has identified a number of U.S. cities that have made concerted efforts to document the locations of lead service lines. This interactive map of Pittsburgh is one example. The Lead Service Line Replacement (LSLR) Collaborative has devoted an entire website to the issue, offering numerous insights about the problem and links to resources needed to fight it.

It’s Easier To Follow A Blazed Path

The LSLR Collaborative is dedicated to speeding up the process of voluntary lead service line replacement. It is a mutual effort among more than two dozen utility, health, environmental, consumer, and governmental organizations. This includes industry-respected groups such as the American Water Works Association (AWWA), RESOLVE, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), Clean Water Action, Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN), the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the National Rural Water Association (NRWA), and the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP).

Here is a cross-section of the resources the Collaborative has to offer:

  • A Roadmap For The Journey. Wherever a utility is along its journey toward lead-free water, the LSLR offers many types of help — from taking the first steps, through legal concerns, to developing a plan, to funding the process.
  • Taking An LSL Inventory. There is no doubt that the task can be daunting, especially in older, larger cities with old plumbing networks and inconsistent or non-existent historic records. This link includes ideas of where to start, what types of resources can be helpful in getting started, how to identify specific service line materials, and how to collect and integrate data into ongoing utility activities.
  • Webinar Series. The LSLR website also includes a variety of webinars designed to help utilities deal with specific aspects of the problem:
    • An Overview Of Tools And Information
    • Developing An Inventory of LSLs
    • Protecting The Public
    • How To Leverage Funding
  • Other Educational Resources. The LSLR Collaborative website also offers multiple informative links: FAQs, research information, replacement plan development, and more.

Of Course, It Takes Money

As with so many other infrastructure replacement tasks, the risks are typically well identified but the funding solutions are not. Fortunately, the LSLR website includes a guidance document that covers multiple approaches to funding. That document also links to specific federal funding resources for LSL replacement available through:

  • EPA Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund (DWSRF)
  • EPA Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA)
  • USDA Rural Development Funding

When investigating those resources, be sure to review the specific criteria for each source, which can vary in terms of eligibility, funding priorities, application requirements, and the availability of principal forgiveness. Various state and local community and utility funding programs are also available.

Image credit: "WASA big idea?," IntangibleArts © 2008, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/