Now is the Time to Understand Lead and Copper Rule Revisions
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its latest Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR) in December 2021. Municipalities are expected to be in compliance by Oct. 16, 2024. We sat down with two of McKim & Creed’s Lead and Copper Rule Revisions experts Phil Locke, PE (Clearwater, Fla.) and Josh Marlin, PE (Charlotte, N.C.).
Since the Lead and Copper Rule was implemented in 1991, there have been revisions. Can you give us an overview of the most recent revisions?
MARLIN: The Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR) consist of a handful of components that community water systems need to comply with:
- Service Line Inventory. Creating a service line inventory, which provides a complete inventory of all service lines in a community to identify areas that have lead service lines or have a high likelihood of lead service lines.
- Replacement Plan. Developing a plan to replace those service lines and then executing those replacements when required.
- Water Sampling. The third would be the site selection, collection procedure and frequency of water sampling. Those requirements have changed and there are additional actions that need to be taken when the trigger level or action level is exceeded in the water sample.
- They would then need to evaluate and potentially improve their corrosion control treatment at their water treatment plants based on the results of the water sampling that they conduct.
- Public Education and Outreach. Providing the public with information about lead and copper and the effects on the water system and water consumers.
- Focus on Schools. The revisions require sampling at all schools and childcare facilities.
These are federal mandates from the EPA. How are different states handling these requirements?
MARLIN: That’s a good question. The federal requirements provide a bare minimum. States can add more stringent requirements that will vary from state to state. Municipalities will need to consult with the reviewing agency in their state to determine additional requirements which should be listed on their website.
LOCKE: In the state of Florida, we’ve reached out to those involved with the rule revisions in Tallahassee and in general Florida is not currently requiring anything beyond the EPA requirements, but that could change at any time.
What brought on the latest set of revisions from the EPA?
LOCKE: The driver for these rule revisions is what happened in Flint, Mich. In 2014 when due to cost-saving measures taken by state-appointed emergency managers, the water coming from the Flint River was not properly treated and the highly corrosive water caused lead to leach from the city’s aging pipes, contaminating the drinking water. Unfortunately, there were several deaths associated with this disaster prompting new revisions to the existing Lead and Copper Rule.
Water treatment and access to clean drinking water impacts everyone. As both engineers in the water industry and residents, why is helping guide communities through these revisions so important to you?
MARLIN: I followed the Flint crisis and I read, “What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City,” by Mona Hanna-Attisha, which is an on-the-ground account of what happened. What happened to this community was horrific and if these Lead and Copper Rule Revisions prevent that from happening again, then that’s something I’d like to be a part of.
LOCKE: Water, water treatment and water systems in general, have been my career passion and public safety always has to be our top priority, which is sometimes forgotten, unfortunately. And sometimes situations like what happened in Flint are important to get things moving in the right direction again.
Phil, you said that the water industry and water engineering have been your passion. What do you enjoy most about your job?
LOCKE: That path has evolved since I started in engineering. I find it fascinating with all the different treatment technologies that are available and the ability to solve problems related to drinking water quality. I’m an engineer, so I can get into a lot of detail about why I like it. But in general, I really enjoy the problem-solving aspect of the job — if there’s a problem with the treatment process or with the quality of the supply water or the quality of the water and the distribution system, my job is to problem solve drinking water challenges.
What about you, Josh?
MARLIN: I really enjoy working with the people who are working at the treatment plant or working out in the distribution system and seeing the challenges that they face every day and seeing their perspective and what incentives drive them because we both care about the same issue. But we’re seeing it from different perspectives.
What have you seen recently as the biggest challenge for the communities and municipalities as they realize they need to come into compliance with the new rule revisions?
LOCKE: I think the number one challenge is human nature. The initial service material inventory is due by Oct. 16, 2024 which seems like there’s plenty of time to get that work done. I think there’s a realizing that there will be a cost component, both an initial cost to comply with the inventory requirements — whether they do that in-house or hire a consultant – and a cost component for monitoring and refinement and replacement of lead service lines.
The main concern I have is that many of our clients may be aware of the rule revisions but have not started any formal process yet.
You mentioned a cost component. Can you tell us a bit about how these projects are being funded?
LOCKE: The State of Florida is going to receive over $376 million in fiscal year 2023 for drinking water upgrades with $255 million of that allocated for lead and copper pipe replacement. The idea is this will cover expenses for municipal clients to replace the service lines. The biggest challenge that they are seeing is that municipalities are required to pay for the cost for the service lines on private property. So, not only is the municipal responsible for replacing the service line from the water main that runs down the middle of the street over to the water meter, but also from the water meter to the and individual’s house.
What does the timeline look like from the point a municipality decides to act to falling into compliance?
MARLIN: We’re talking several months at a minimum and that’s just for the initial compliance deadline. And it really depends on the system. We must meet them where they’re at. A lot of these requirements hinge on data collection and classifying service lines based on that data. If the client doesn’t have much data available that will affect the timeline. And again, the size of their water system will also affect the timeline in terms of meeting compliance in October 2024.
Water systems of any size should start putting an effort together this summer and fall.
How long have you both been working with municipal water clients?
MARLIN: I’ll be coming up on six years.
LOCKE: I’ll date myself here, but I guess it’s been about 27 years now.
What considerations need to be taken from an engineering standpoint when working with water treatment plants?
LOCKE: What immediately pops into my head are the public health requirements. I’ve dealt with reclaimed water, wastewater and potable water and they all have regulations, but only one is actually water that we drink. The idea of whatever we treat and put in the system we are putting into our bodies, makes what we do a little different.
MARLIN: I would agree with Phil and something that’s obvious maybe within the industry, but not so much outside is that it’s a 24/7 gig, right? I mean you can’t have a bad water day. It needs to be on all the time.
One thing that makes this job exciting and keeps it interesting and different is the 24/7 aspect. Is there anything else that comes to mind?
LOCKE: I think there’s an aesthetic part of it also. Drinking water must meet regulations and those regulations are not that difficult to achieve unless you have a very poor source. However, it’s possible to meet drinking water regulations and yet the water will have a taste or odor or even color.
I’ve seen cases where the water has a significant yellow tint to it and that water still meets drinking water requirements. Sometimes there’s a chlorine odor or sometimes you might run across sort of an earthy or fishy odor. Odor in the water, although not pleasant, in some cases still means drinking water regulations. Part of my goal and one of the things I really enjoy is getting water to a house that not only meets regulations but is pleasant to the utility customers. If you run water in your bathtub or sink with a and see a color tinge to it, there’s an automatic assumption that there’s something wrong with the water or it’s dangerous.
Because of what happened in Flint, the public is paying much more attention to drinking water. Have you seen anything else in your career that has had as big of an impact on the industry?
LOCKE: In addition to lead and copper, there are also things that can really hurt us and even kill us, namely microorganism parasites giardia and cryptosporidium. In 1993 more than 400,000 in Milwaukee, Wisc. Experienced a severe outbreak of cryptosporidiosis resulting in at least 100 deaths, making it the largest waterborne disease outbreak in U.S. history.
This necessitated better regulation and monitoring of water supplies before going through a treatment process.
How does climate in different parts of the country impact water treatment?
LOCKE: Water in Florida where I live and work, for example, is warmer. It’s warmer from the source, it’s warmer in the pipes and in the system. The warmer water tends to be more difficult to manage.
Warmer water will result in more bacteriological growth, think of slimy algae. You don’t want that on your drinking water pipes. Also, for nitrification warmer water is a little more challenging to deal with.
Is there any way to gauge what percentage of lead and copper piping currently in play needs replacing?
MARLIN: On a national level there are more than 300,000,000 customers that may have a lead and copper pipe between the water source and their faucet, so it is an extremely common thing. Most of the water systems in the country have portions that were installed prior to the lead band and are still in operation today.
What makes McKim & Creed the best choice to assist with Lead and Copper Rule Revisions?
MARLIN: We have a great team of people dedicated to helping clients with the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions. We call ourselves the LCR Club. In addition to engineers with decades of municipal water experience, we have in-house GIS experts and water asset management experts. We also have people who have spent a lot of time studying the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions. We meet regularly to knowledge share and make sure that our LCRR projects are supported by the entire team.
LOCKE: The success of the LCR Club has been fantastic. It’s really cool to see so many people involved in the process and we share relevant experiences in ongoing projects which is something I’m personally benefiting from. We have different clients in different locations. We’re learning about our GIS tools and how they are being improved as we move forward. We’re a team that’s really been focused on LCRR and it goes beyond just a few projects. We are really invested as a team to gaining as much knowledge as we can to help as many clients as we can.
MARLIN: It’s been helpful because this is newish legislation and we’re kind of are pioneering. So having a group of people to bounce things off of really helps us continue to move in the right direction.