Jan 11, 2021

Lead & Copper Rule Final Update Receives Industry Feedback

Various water industry leaders discuss the first significant update to the Lead and Copper Rule in nearly 30 years.

The U.S. EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) final update aims to better protect children and communities from the risks of lead exposure, according to the EPA. 

The final update to the LCR was released Dec. 22, 2020.

This will be done by better protecting children at schools and childcare facilities, getting the lead out of the nation’s drinking water, and empowering communities through information, according to the EPA. 


Six Critical Aspects of the LCRR

According to the EPA, the new rule features improvements including:

  • The rule establishes a new threshold of 10 ppb, that when exceeded, requires more and rapid implementation of corrosion control treatment to reduce lead in drinking water.
  • Using science-based testing protocols to find more sources of lead in drinking water. This aspect requires collection of the fifth-liter sample in homes with lead service lines (LSLs) after water has sat stagnant for a minimum of six hours.
  • Conducting more and complete lead service line replacements. This changes priorities for collection of samples with a greater focus on LSL replacements.
  • Requirements to test in schools and childcare facilities. This is a first time requirement.  Community water systems must conduct sampling at 20% of elementary schools and 20% of childcare facilities per year and conduct sampling at secondary schools on request for one testing cycle (five years) and conduct sampling on request of all schools and childcare facilities thereafter. The sample results and public education materials must be provided to each sampled school/childcare, primacy agency and local or state health department, excluding facilities built or replaced all plumbing after Jan. 1, 2014.
  • Requirements for water systems to identify and publicize the locations of lead service lines. Consumers also must be informed annually that they are served by LSLs or be alerted to the lead status of unknown service lines. 

Even further, systems serving less than 50,000 people must continue water quality parameter monitoring until they no longer exceed lead and/or copper action levels for two consecutive six-month monitoring periods. 

Since its conception in 1991, the LCR has undergone several revisions.


Industry Insights

After the EPA released the final updates to the LCR, water industry associations swiftly provided commentary about what these rules mean for communities and water systems. 

American Water Works Association (AWWA)

“As the final rule is announced, AWWA renews its commitment to the removal of all lead service lines in their entirety,” said AWWA President Melissa Elliott in a press release about the revisions. “The first step in accomplishing that task is the development of lead inventories in every community, and we enthusiastically support the inclusion of that requirement in the final rule. EPA reports that lead action level exceedances today among large systems are 90% lower than they were when the rule was first introduced in 1991. Still, the surest way to protect against lead in water is to remove the sources of lead.” 

She said AWWA maintains that water utilities will be leaders in this task and removing lead service lines will require time and collaboration. Additionally, the association noted the revision’s emphasis on transparency and timely communication with water customers and consumers in a utility’s service area.

Water Environment Federation (WEF)

WEF noted in a press release that new to the LCR is a requirement that public water systems (PWS) notify property owners within 24 hours of the results of sample analysis. The sample collection for compliance determination is also changing as the fifth liter collected will be analyzed rather than the first liter sample. The federation noted that some experts believe this method will better represent the characteristics of the water at the time of sampling, and that the previous method may have underrepresented lead in water samples.

“However, the rule does not enact a stricter limit on lead levels in drinking water that advocates argue is necessary to protect health,” the WEF press release states. “Some argue that this rule decreases the speed at which utilities will be on the hook to replace the lead service lines that connect homes to the water supply — a move critics say means lead tainted pipes will remain underground for another 30 years.” 

Additionally, WEF notes the rule includes “small system flexibility,” but the U.S. EPA has defined “small system” as serving under 10,000 instead of the 3,300 population that has been used in the past. This creates an increased workload on the primacy agencies and water systems. 

Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA)

Speaking in a similar vein to that of WEF, ASDWA released a press release noting the increased burden the LCRR places on state primacy agencies, water systems and the communities they serve for implementation.

“Implementing this regulation is going to require a significant collaborative effort between ASDWA’s members, EPA, and the water systems and their customers.” the ASDWA press release states.

ASDWA maintains that getting the lead out by removing lead service lines is a major infrastructure effort, and highlights that optimizing corrosion control treatment in addition to replacing all of the lead service lines in the U.S. are the ultimate answers.

Water Quality Association (WQA)

In a press release by the Water Quality Association (WQA), the association notes that the updates are significant for the water treatment and filtration industry. 

The new rule allows CWS serving fewer than 10,000 people and all non-transient non-CWS to elect to maintain point-of-use devices certified to remove lead in place of corrosion control treatment.

“This is another significant step forward in acknowledging the value and need for point-of-use technologies,” said Tom Bruursema, WQA Associate Executive Director for Member and Public Engagement in the press release. “These products offer a final barrier of protection for homeowners who may be concerned about the quality of their drinking water.”

The action level for lead in drinking water will remain at 15 ppb but a new trigger level will be added at 10 ppb, notes the WQA press release. 

A side by side comparison of the old and new rule can be found here.