Tom Neltner, J.D., is Chemicals Policy Director
In 2016, California became the first state in the country to make enforceable commitments to eliminating all lead service lines (LSLs) in the state. These lead pipes that connect the main under the street to homes are the primary source of lead in drinking water and unpredictably release lead particulate when disturbed. Under the leadership of Senator Connie Leyva, the state’s Senate voted unanimously, and the Assembly voted 72 to 7 to pass SB1398 to require drinking water utilities to inventory LSLs in use and then provide the State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) a timeline for replacement of the lines.
Based on a national survey of utilities, the American Water Works Association reported that California has 65,000 LSLs out of 6.1 million nationally. Large utilities have the most with 46,000 LSLs, medium systems have 4,700 and small systems have 15,000. However, most utilities do not have an accurate inventory of LSLs, so the true number may be much greater.
California’s SB1398 recognized that an accurate inventory was critical and laid out a thoughtful two-step plan to accomplish the objective of full LSL replacement. By July 1, 2018, it requires public water systems (PWS) to submit an inventory of known LSLs and a timeline for their replacement. Two years later, PWSs must submit an updated inventory of LSLs and provide a timeline to replace any service line where it may be made of lead. The law does not set a deadline for replacement that PWSs must meet.
This two-step approach makes replacing known LSLs the highest priority and, by essentially presuming that a service line is lead unless known otherwise, also creates an incentive for PWSs to develop accurate inventories in the next three years.