EDF Health

Selected tag(s): Lead in Drinking Water

EPA greenlights 21 states’ SRF plans to fund LSL replacement projects

Tom Neltner, Senior Director, Safer Chemicals

What’s New: EPA announced it has awarded $1.16 billion to the State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs in 21 states, the District of Columbia, and three territories to support lead service line (LSL) replacement projects. In order to secure funding, these states developed and submitted Intended Use Plans (IUPs), which included LSL replacement projects that met EPA’s requirements.

Why It Matters: These 25 programs can now begin distributing their share of the first of five years of funding from the $15 billion Congress included in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) specifically for full LSL replacement projects. The remaining states are working to get their IUPs submitted to EPA.

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The LSLR Collaborative’s new guide helps communities design equitable lead service line replacement programs

Guest post from Mason Hines, Mediator with RESOLVE and Facilitator for the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative.  See the original post here.

For over six years, RESOLVE has convened the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative, a joint effort of 28 national public health, water utility, environmental, labor, consumer, housing, and state and local governmental organizations to accelerate full removal of the lead pipes providing drinking water to millions of American homes.

A guiding principle of the LSLR Collaborative is that lead service line (LSL) replacement program should consider and address barriers to participation so that people served by LSLs can benefit equitably, regardless of income, race, or ethnicity. Questions of equity surface at many points in the design of LSL replacement programs, including determining how replacements are funded, how to sequence replacement schedules, and how the program is communicated to community members.

Understanding these are important and complex questions, the LSLR Collaborative recently released a step-by-step guide communities can use to help consider and account for issues of equity when developing LSL replacement programs.  Read More »

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Leveraging LSL replacement funding: Chicago Fed steps up

Tom Neltner, Senior Director, Safer Chemicals Initiative

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago serves Iowa and much of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin—areas of the country that likely have more LSLs than those served by any of the other 11 banks in the Federal Reserve System. Image source: Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago

What Happened: On November 2, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago held a meeting of more than 50 stakeholders interested in new strategies to fund and finance lead service line (LSL) replacements. I attended, representing the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative.

Why It Matters:

  • The meeting was an important first gathering of its type to focus on helping:
  • Lead pipes represent the most significant source of lead in drinking water. Replacing the nation’s estimated 9 million LSLs is predicted to cost $45 billion.
  • Federal funds alone will not be enough to help states and communities eliminate this lead pipe legacy, municipal water utilities need to leverage federal funds by getting the lowest rates for bonds to finance their efforts.

Our Takeaway: EDF applauds Chicago Fed for its leadership in taking on this complicated but critical issue. The meeting advanced the discussion in a way that only a neutral party like the Chicago Fed can do.

Next Steps: Within days of the convening, I am already hearing from participants interested in making connections or learning more about the issue. Chicago Fed should continue these convenings and engage more stakeholders.

Go Deeper: In February 2022, staff at the Chicago Fed began to offer a series of excellent articles, videos, and case studies to explain the issue of lead pipes to their stakeholders. We recommend this interview with Margaret Bowman, a water expert with 30 years in the nongovernmental and philanthropy sectors, as she explains the financing needs and opportunities.

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EPA should ensure federal funds do not support harmful partial LSL replacements

Tom Neltner, Senior Director, Safer Chemicals Initiative and Roya Alkafaji, Manager, Healthy Communities

Last year, the White House set a goal of eliminating lead service lines (LSLs) by 2032 and worked with Congress to enact the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)—also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law—which included critical resources to help meet this goal.

Through IIJA, communities across the United States have access to federal funds to replace an estimated 9 million LSLs, which are the pipes that connect homes to water mains under the street. EDF fully supports the President’s goal and related efforts to protect public health and advance environmental justice.

EPA is off to a good start. The agency:

  • Distributed the first of five years of IIJA funds to state revolving fund (SRF) programs, including $15 billion dedicated to LSL replacement and $11.7 billion in general funding for drinking water infrastructure projects (which may also be used for LSL replacement).
  • Provided guidance to states to help ensure the funds go to “disadvantaged communities” and that the $15 billion is used for full (not partial) replacements.
  • Plans to publish the results of its drinking water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment. That report is crucial to updating the formula by which SRF funds will be allocated to states in subsequent years.

However, as states begin to administer SRF funds from the $11.7 billion in general infrastructure funding, EPA’s lack of clarity on what the funds can and cannot be used for reveals problems. Specifically, some states may allow this funding to pay for partial – as opposed to full – LSL replacements when a utility works on aging water mains that have LSLs attached to them.

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Successful Denver Water Lead Reduction Program seeks 12-Year extension

Roya Alkafaji, Manager, Healthy Communities and Lindsay McCormick, Senior Manager, Safer Chemicals

Denver Water has one of the most successful lead service line (LSL) replacement programs in the country. Since it began the program in 2020, the utility has replaced nearly 14,000 LSLs—prioritizing lines to buildings serving vulnerable populations, such as child-care facilities. Denver Water has also distributed over 102,000 filters to local residents. EPA should continue to support their innovative approach.

Watch this video to learn more about Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program.

In 2019, we blogged about a novel program that Denver Water designed to address the estimated 64,000 to 84,000 LSLs in its system. These lead pipes connect buildings to water mains under the street.  At the time, the water utility proposed to fully replace all LSLs in their entirety within 15 years under its Lead Reduction Program.

The utility decided to fund the work through water rates and bonds, hydropower production, and other sources. In addition, they proposed to provide filters to residents until six months after replacement of the LSL.

Critically, the program includes a comprehensive effort to engage local partners to reach all members of the community. For example, Denver Water partnered with CREA Results, a local community-based organization that is helping to engage and educate Spanish-speaking and immigrant communities on the risks of lead in drinking water and to ensure that residents understand the steps involved with LSL replacement in their neighborhoods. Denver Water’s program has emerged as a national model and its success is recognized by the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative and EPA (including its recent service line inventory guidance).

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NEPA requires water utilities to evaluate potential discriminatory effects before starting work that disturbs lead pipes

Tom Neltner, Senior Director, Safer Chemicals Initiative; and Jennifer Ortega, Research Analyst

Providence Water, Rhode Island’s largest water utility, has applied for state funds to rehabilitate drinking water mains in its service area. Lead service lines (LSLs) are often attached to the mains and carry drinking water to customer’s homes. The utility has requested a “categorical exclusion” from the basic environmental assessment requirement for projects seeking money from the State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF). We believe the exclusion is not appropriate and have sent a letter to the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) asking it to deny Providence Water’s request.

As part of its work, Providence Water apparently plans to replace LSLs on public property and give customers the option to accept a 10-year interest free loan to replace the LSLs that run under their private property. However, this practice forces customers to choose between paying for a full LSL replacement or risking greater lead exposure from the disturbance caused by a partial LSL replacement. It is also the basis of a civil rights complaint that Childhood Lead Action Project (CLAP), South Providence Neighborhood Association, Direct Action for Rights and Equality, National Center for Healthy Housing, and EDF filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in January.

EPA, which allocates grants to SRF programs has begun to investigate the civil rights issues raised by the complaint, which demonstrated that Providence Water’s practices disproportionately and adversely affect the health of low-income, Black, Latinx, and Native American residents by increasing their risk of exposure to lead in drinking water.

Under federal and state National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations, SRF projects are not eligible for a categorical exclusion where an “extraordinary circumstance” is present. The discriminatory effects of Providence Water’s LSL replacement practices represent such a circumstance, and the utility should not be eligible for a categorical exclusion unless it changes its LSL replacement practices. Read More »

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