EDF Health

Selected tag(s): lead service line inventory

California water utilities fear the unknown when it comes to lead service lines

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director.

Last month, two California trade associations submitted disconcerting comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the agency considers what to do with the revised Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) published in the waning days of the Trump Administration. The associations – the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) and the California Municipal Utilities Association (CMUA) – represent 90% of the state’s drinking water utilities.

The trade associations are asking EPA to allow water utilities to tell the agency, the state, their customers, and the public that they have no lead service lines (LSLs) even when they know it may well be false. This would seriously undermine one of the most important positive aspects of the revised LCR – the service line inventory. California’s unusual definition of a “user service line” has been a long-running problem: it does not include the portion of the service line on private property. This definition is narrower than the federal one – and even the state’s definition of an LSL that has been in place for more than a quarter century.

Under EPA’s revised LCR, utilities can only claim that they have no LSLs – and thus avoid the need to comply with the rule’s more protective sampling and corrosion control requirements for systems with LSLs – if they are confident there are no LSLs based the entire length of the service line, including the portion on private property. The two state trade associations are asking EPA to put the burden of determining the composition of this portion of the service line entirely on the customer, allowing a utility to ignore a lead pipe if the customer does not provide the information. This approach will render the inventory effectively useless and misleading.

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Michigan embraces predictive tools to develop a lead service line inventory

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director.

Earlier this year, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) released ground breaking guidance to help utilities in the state develop their “Complete Distribution System Materials Inventory” (CDSMI) that is due in 2025. The guidance is important because it explicitly allows utilities to use predictive tools to prepare an accurate materials inventory that is essential to effective lead service line (LSL) replacement efforts. Because the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) service line inventory in its revised Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) has many elements in common with Michigan’s inventory, we encourage EPA and other states to look closely at Michigan’s guidance as a model to help all utilities develop accurate service line inventories.

Michigan’s inventory requirement and guidance

Michigan’s version of the LCR requires utilities to fully replace all LSLs – the portion on both public and private property – at an average rate of 5% per year by 2040.[1] The key to compliance is an accurate CDSMI that must be submitted to EGLE and made public by January 1, 2025.

EGLE states that the CDSMI’s purpose “is to characterize, record, and maintain a comprehensive inventory of distribution system materials, including service line materials on both public and private property.” It supports effective asset management planning, LSL replacement efforts, and notification of those served by an LSL.

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EPA’s new service line inventory: The good, the bad, and the absurd

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director

This is the first in a series of blogs evaluating various aspects of EPA’s December 2020 revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) and what they may mean for accelerating lead service line (LSL) replacements. The blogs cover: 1) the new service line inventory; 2) three new LSL notices; 3) environmental justice implications; 4) communicating health effects of lead; 5) economic implications; and 6) sampling and trigger/action level. 

Note that President Biden’s Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis directs agencies to review the former administration’s regulations and actions, including the Lead and Copper Rule. 

The backbone of the revised LCR is a new service line inventory[1] that all public water systems, whether large or small, rural or urban, must develop by January 2024 unless they can demonstrate that they have no LSLs. If properly designed and implemented, the inventory should transform how utilities, communities and states approach LSLs by moving from rough estimates to a data-driven approach that allows water systems to identify what is known and not known about the service lines, communicate that information to the public, and establish LSL replacement priorities.

Unfortunately, EPA has included an unfortunate and absurd new detail in the inventory that requires systems to categorize service lines that contain a two-foot piece of lead pipe, often known as a gooseneck, as “Non-lead.” We anticipate that the absurdity of calling a lead pipe “Non-lead” will undermine the inventory’s credibility and effectiveness.

What is the new service line inventory and how is it used?

By January 2024, water systems must submit a service line inventory to the state and make it publicly accessible pursuant to 40 CFR § 141.84(a). To develop the inventory, they must assign all service lines, regardless of ownership, for the portions on public or private property to one of four categories:

  1. Lead: where a portion of the service line is made of lead (excluding lead connectors, such as goosenecks, as explained below). We presume this includes lead-lined pipe.
  2. Galvanized Requiring Replacement: where a portion of the service line is galvanized iron or steel.[2] If the system can determine that the galvanized pipe was never downstream of an LSL (or lead connector, such as a gooseneck[3]), then it is essentially a galvanized pipe not requiring replacement and can be categorized as “Non-lead.”
  3. Non-lead: where the line is determined not to be “Lead” or “Galvanized Requiring Replacement” (see discussion below for lead connectors). Our understanding is that systems could assume service lines installed after the 1986 federal ban on lead pipe are “Non-Lead.”
  4. Lead Status Unknown: where it has not been determined if the service line met the SDWA Section 1417 definition of “Lead-free” at 42 U.S.C. § 300g-6. We presume this means that solder or flux must be less than 0.2% lead and other wetted surfaces must be less than 8% from 1986 to 2013 and less than 0.25% for 2014 to present.[4]

Under these requirements, a service line is classified as an LSL if it is in the “Lead” or “Galvanized Requiring Replacement” categories.[5]

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Michigan utilities report much lower percentages of service lines of lead or unknown material than Wisconsin or Illinois

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director

Note to readers: As we all grapple with the grave global health challenge from COVID-19, we want to acknowledge the essential service that the public health professionals at water utilities provide in delivering safe water not only for drinking but for washing our hands and our surroundings. In the meantime, we are continuing to work towards improved health and environmental protections – including reducing lead in drinking water. We’ll plan to keep sharing developments regarding lead in drinking water that may be useful to you. In the meantime, please stay safe and healthy.

Lead service line (LSL) inventories provide useful insights into the location and number of LSLs in states and the funding needed to fully replace these lines. In previous blogs, we examined mandatory reporting by utilities of service line material in Illinois and Wisconsin.[1] Here, we examined a March 2020 preliminary report by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) summarizing data submitted by 1,029 utilities. Unlike the annual reporting in Illinois and Wisconsin, Michigan required utilities to submit a preliminary inventory by January 1, 2020 and requires a complete inventory before 2025. While the preliminary report allows lines to be designated as unknown, the material must be determined by 2025. This is a two-step process, rather than the annual report approach that California has taken.

Michigan reports less than 100,000 LSLs and 276,000 lines of unknown material that may be lead

The state’s preliminary report is based on 1,029 utilities[2] (74% of the state’s 1,386 total) with 2.40 million service lines (90% of the 2.66 million total).[3] This reporting rate is lower than what Illinois experienced at a similar stage in the first year of mandatory reporting.

For the 1,029 utilities that reported, utilities reported 99,000 (4% of total) lead, 21,000 (0.9%) galvanized steel,[4] 177,000 (7%) of unknown material but likely to be lead, and 276,000 (12%) as unknown with no information. If all of the four categories are actually lead (which is unlikely), there would be 573,000 (23%) LSLs in Michigan.

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Latest Wisconsin data on water service lines provides important insights, reveals over 150,000 lead pipes

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director

Note to readers: As we all grapple with the grave global health challenge from COVID-19, we want to acknowledge the essential service that the public health professionals at water utilities provide in delivering safe water not only for drinking but for washing our hands and our surroundings. In the meantime, we are continuing to work towards improved health and environmental protections – including reducing lead in drinking water. We’ll plan to keep sharing developments regarding lead in drinking water that may be useful to you. In the meantime, please stay safe and healthy.

With the comment period now closed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed revisions to its Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), agency staff are busy reviewing the 687 distinct comments submitted to the docket with a goal of finalizing the rule by the end of the year. To help water professionals plan ahead, the cover article in the March edition of Journal AWWA walks readers through the proposal and its implications. It ends with six suggestions to water systems that include developing a service line material inventory and identifying funding strategies to accelerate full lead service line (LSL) replacement.

With this suggestion in mind, we are continuing our work evaluating state efforts to develop LSL inventories by taking a closer look at reporting by Wisconsin municipal and private water utilities[1] to the state Public Service Commission (PSC) for calendar year 2018.[2] Of the other states with mandatory inventory reporting, we have previously covered Illinois in detail and will evaluate Michigan’s newly released reports soon. The only other state with mandatory reporting is California, but it has limited value because it only covers the portion of the service line owned by the utility and excludes the portion on private property.

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Where are Illinois’ lead pipes? Chicago Water has nearly 60%, and small systems don’t know.

Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director and Lindsay McCormick, Program Manager.

Chicago is the epicenter for lead service lines (LSLs) in the United States. In a report submitted to Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) in April, Chicago Water reported having 392,614 LSLs – 75% of the total service lines in its water system that serves 2.7 million people living in the city and the city’s 125 suburbs. The number of LSLs is over three times higher than any other city. For additional context, this number represents 58% of the known LSLs in Illinois and 6% of the estimated 6.1 million LSLs in the country.

Chicago Water also reported an additional 120,760 service lines as unknown material that may be lead. Only 7,299 (2%) of its total service lines are made of something other than lead.

These numbers are based on the second year of mandatory reporting that IEPA makes publicly available. Earlier this year, we summarized the first year of reporting. In the second year of reporting, IEPA improved the program by allowing CWSs to separately report lines of unknown material where the utility was confident they were not LSLs – most likely because the lines were installed after the date the CWS stopped allowing use of lead. So the remaining lines of “unknown material” were more likely to be lead. In addition, all community water systems (CWSs) in the state reported in the second year.[1] Given these improvements, we looked more closely at the data.

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