Drinking Water Infrastructure Hamstrung With Antiquated Procurement Practices and Regulations That Inhibit Use of Materials & Increase Water Ratepayers Costs

Part 3 of 5

Antiquated Regulations

Challenges to improved infrastructure and procurement practices are exacerbated by antiquated regulations that remain in place.  These antiquated regulations do not acknowledge new, innovative drinking water conveyance technologies.  Outdated regulations create regulatory ambiguity and complying with these old regulations contributes to project delays and increased costs to water ratepayers.

EPA is currently re-writing the 1991 Lead and Copper Rule (LCR).  The LCR is a treatment technique regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) that is meant to protect public health by minimizing lead and copper levels in drinking water, primarily by reducing water corrosivity through corrosion control treatment.

Consider this comparison…In 1991 software engineers at CERN, a physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, began allowing people outside of CERN to join a new web community on the first web page created in the previous year. Today, according to Statista, “Over 4.33 billion people were active internet users as of July 2019, encompassing 56 percent of the global population.”

The public and private impacts of EPA’s revisions to the LCR are profound. Not only does the regulation ensure the public safe drinking water, it impacts the professionals who work daily to provide consumers drinking water, state and local levels of government, about 68,000 drinking water systems (at least 10 percent of which had at least one open violation of the rule according to GAO) and water ratepayers. Given the significance of the rule, the regulatory process will be lengthy. EPA is likely to announce a proposed rule revising the lead and copper rule in October 2019. A final rule, according to the Office of Management and Budget will not be complete until 2020.

EPA last updated the lead and copper rule in 2007 by mandating “Systems that fail to meet the lead action level in tap samples taken pursuant to §141.86(d)(2), after installing corrosion control and/or source water treatment (whichever sampling occurs later), shall replace lead service lines.” 

However, according to a September 2018 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO, 18-620), “few water systems had completed inventories of lead service lines.”  GAO further concluded that the total number of lead service lines is unknown and while national, state, and local estimates exist, approaches used to count lead service lines vary. More interestingly and likely a focus of the upcoming re-write is the fact that the total number of lead service lines is unknown because, among other things, the Lead and Copper Rule does not require all water systems to collect such information.

So, even if the 2007-revised lead and copper rule mandated lead service line replacement, currently we do not know where the lead service lines are that need replacing.

Addressing Antiquated Regulations

As EPA continues the much-needed re-write of the lead and copper rule we believe EPA will require states to complete inventories of lead service lines and will focus regulatory actions to populations most at risk with lead service lines.  Moreover, partial lead service line replacement will no longer be an option.  EPA will also consider an approach that will incorporate both technology-based and health-based elements that will provide water systems clarity on how best to ensure effective reductions of lead in drinking water.

Managers of public and private water systems need 21st Century clarity in the revised EPA LCR! Such clarity will allow water conveyance engineers to select the appropriate water technologies and materials that are certified for use to meet the respective challenges of each water system.

Fortunately, EPA recognizes this and is acting by revising the LCR rule. Since it has been nearly three decades since a major re-write of the LCR it is incumbent upon EPA to acknowledge new, certified technologies and clarify the ability of water systems to use them.

Allowing managers of public and private water systems to use multiple and varying water technologies will help them manage infrastructure costs that eventually get passed down to water ratepayers. According to Circle of Blue‘s annual survey of water rates in 30 U.S. cities, in 2018 the average monthly cost of a family of four using 100 gallons of water per person, each day is $70.39. This continues the rising trend of water prices. Eight years ago (2010) the average monthly cost for a family of four was $44.39. Fortunately, the year-to-year increases in costs that water ratepayers are paying is easing. And, with major infrastructure challenges on the horizon, using multiple technologies will help continue the slowing rise in costs.

Up Next….

Congress is responding to the major challenges of drinking water infrastructure. But, will Congress add provisions in law that require water systems receiving federal financial support to maintain open and fair competition for materials used in improving drinking water infrastructure? We think so, and we’ll explain why.

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