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Mapping state-level lead service line information: Indiana as a model

Lindsay McCormick, is a Project Manager. Tom Neltner, J.D., is the Chemicals Policy Director.

Developing inventories to document and share what water utilities know – and do not know – about lead service lines (LSLs) with the public is a difficult, but critical, step in creating an effective LSL replacement program.

States can play an important role in collecting estimates of the number of known and potential LSLs for each utility and shaping how that information is communicated to the public. 14 states have surveyed utilities operating community water systems in their state to acquire such information.

States have made this information publicly available through different methods. Some have posted individual utility reports, while others have provided a report summarizing the findings. In analyzing the approaches, we found that no state currently makes the results available in a format that allows the public to easily see the information from multiple utilities.

But in today’s world, people typically expect data to be presented in a visually friendly and digestible format. So as a model, we decided to create a state-level map of LSL information.

Of the 14 states, we found that Indiana has one of the most robust surveys, asking detailed questions about portions of the service line containing lead, information sources checked, and service line ownership on public versus private property.  Further, it has a good response rate for a voluntary survey. While only 57% of systems responded, these systems account for 92% of the LSLs in the state – as most non-respondents were primarily smaller community water systems.

EDF acquired a spreadsheet from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and combined this information with data from EPA’s State Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) to develop a map of LSLs in Indiana as a model.

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American Water demonstrates strong leadership on lead service line replacement

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

In a landmark decision on July 25, 2018, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) approved American Water’s plan to fully replace the lead service lines (LSLs) in the communities served by its Indiana subsidiary over the next 10 to 24 years. This represents the replacement of about 50,000 LSLs across 27 community water systems (CWSs). As we highlighted in our blog on the company’s January 2018 proposal, the plan provides a framework that enables the cost of fully replacing LSLs, whether owned by the utility or by customers, to be shared by its 300,000 customers. As far as we know, this is the first comprehensive, voluntary LSL replacement program developed by an investor-owned utility in the country.

In its plan, American Water cited both long-term health and economic benefits that would be realized from avoiding partial replacements when rehabilitating water mains and laterals. The plan showed that having a single contractor handle the entire line reduces the overall cost by 25 t0 30%. It also avoids the likely increased risk of consumer’s exposure to lead when only part of the lead pipe is replaced.

IURC’s approval found the plan “to be reasonable and in the public interest.” Even though the customer will continue to own the service line, American Water will be allowed to add the cost to remove and replace the customer-owned portion to the value of the utility’s property. The increase would be considered an infrastructure improvement cost once the new service line is placed into service.

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Lead service line inventories – Indiana as a good model of a voluntary survey

Tom Neltner, Lindsay McCormick, and Audrey McIntosh

This blog is part of a series focused on how states are handling the essential task of developing inventories of lead service lines (LSLs) and making them public. The first blog identified 14 states that were taking on the issue: 4 with mandatory programs and 10 with voluntary. The second blog described programs in four states that mandate an inventory. In this blog, we highlight Indiana’s 2016 voluntary survey of utilities operating community water systems (CWSs) as a model because it ask utilities to: 1) identify who owns the line and provide the legal basis for that claim; and 2) rate its confidence in its estimates on a 1 to 10 scale. 

We found no other state survey asked about LSL ownership even though it is a central question in determining who is expected to pay for replacement. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC) recommended[1] in 2015 that the agency require utilities to provide states this information as part of a revised Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). Unfortunately, 43% of the 781 CWS did not respond to Indiana’s survey, revealing a serious limitation of voluntary surveys.

In January 2016, a month before EPA encouraged states to develop an inventory of LSLs and make it available to the public, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) sent a two-page survey to utilities that operate CWSs in the state asking about drinking water service lines. The agency posted scanned PDF copies of the individual responses online but has not yet released a summary.[2]

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American Water lays out a plan for replacing lead pipes in its Indiana systems

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

Updated May 4, 2018: The IURC issued an order on March 7 scheduling an evidentiary hearing for May 7, 2018 at 9:30 am at its offices in Indianapolis.  In advance of the meeting, the Office of Utility Consumer Counselor,  the state agency representing taxpayers interests, filed a brief supporting Indiana American Water's proposal to replace LSLs using ratepayer funds with six modifications.  No parties opposed the proposal.  In response, Indiana American Water accepted some but not all of the modifications.

The Indiana subsidiary of American Water Company filed a plan in January 2018 with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) to fully replace lead service lines (LSLs) in the communities it serves within the next 10 to 24 years. The company estimates that 50,000 of its 300,000 customers in the state have lead pipe in a portion of the service line connecting the main under the street with the building.

The plan is the first submitted to the IURC in response to legislation enacted by the Indiana General Assembly in April 2017 and authored by Rep. Heath VanNatter. If the IURC approves the plan, the company can seek Commission approval to include LSL replacement on private property as an eligible infrastructure improvement whose costs can be covered by rates paid by customers.

With the plan, American Water is essentially embracing the goal articulated by EPA’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council and the American Water Works Association that the United States needs to eliminate LSLs. We applaud that goal and American Water’s commitment – while it will take time to achieve, people should not be drinking water through lead pipes, even with optimal corrosion control. Read More »

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Lead service lines on private property – 3 states’ approaches to the challenge

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

After the tragedy in Flint, Michigan, there is broad agreement that lead service lines (LSLs) need to be replaced. While corrosion control is essential, it isn’t a fail-safe, long-term solution. With the risks posed by lead to children’s brain development, we must eliminate LSLs – which currently account for an estimated 50 to 75% of the lead in drinking water.

One of the most significant challenges is determining who pays for replacing the portion of a LSL on private property and how it can be done in a way that does not leave low-income residents behind. Most utilities consider service lines on private property to be the responsibility of the property owner. They see replacing customer-owned portions of LSLs as improvements to private property and are typically restricted from using funds collected from all customers to fund an upgrade that benefits only a few. States often impose restrictions as well.

The interpretation that customers are responsible for LSLs on their property is ironic in communities such as Chicago, which mandated the use of LSLs until Congress banned them in 1986.  Given that they had a hand in creating the problem, it seems that they have at least some responsibility in fixing it. The threat posed by lead was well known for decades before Congress acted. Cities such as Cincinnati banned the use of lead pipes in 1927 and Boston in the 1930s.

It is difficult to put responsibility solely on the homeowner since they are unlikely to have been told they have a LSL by the seller. Even if they were aware that their home is serviced by an LSL, the risk a LSL poses to their family’s health is only now becoming clear.

Without support, low-income residents often cannot afford to pay for their portion of the LSL replacement, even if they get zero- or low-interest loans. However, wealthy residents have more options to make the investment than their low-income neighbors and landlords should be making the investment as part of their business.

In December 2016, Congress weighed in and authorized EPA “to establish a $300 million grant program to replace lead service lines on residential property in disadvantaged communities.”[1] It is up to Congress to appropriate the funds as part of its infrastructure investments and ensure that the grant program will not be a hollow promise.

But many states are not waiting on Congress. Three states, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, have been wrestling with whether to allow communities to use a portion of rates paid by customers to pay for LSL replacements. Collectively, these states have an estimated 690,000 LSLs, 11% of the national estimate. In this blog, we will explore these three state approaches. Read More »

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