|A new measure signed Monday, December 21st by US EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler provides for the adoption of new rules regarding public notification, testing, and replacement criteria for lead in public water supplies.
Under the new rules, water utilities will be required to provide customer alerts of high concentrations of lead within 24 hours of discovery, a much-accelerated timeframe compared to the previous stipulation of notice within a 30-day window.
An important new component of the rule is the requirement that water utilities test the water supplies of schools and childcare centers. Utilities will also have to map the lead lines within their own distribution systems and provide this information to the public. The new rule includes a new trigger that requires utilities to increase their lead treatment activities and to immediately start planning their water line replacement programs when lead concentrations exceed 10 parts per billion in the water. An existing rule continues to stipulate that line replacements have to be performed when concentrations exceed 15 parts per billion.
In attempting to set achievable standards, utilities that discover high levels of lead in their water will have more time to replace a minimum of 3% of their lead water lines annually, a reduction from the previous requirement of 7%. Although this change represents a reduction in the annual replacement rate, the rule also closes some loopholes that allowed for partial line replacements and other limited efforts that slowed the replacement process from the original intent of the rules.
With the announcement and posting of the new rule, water-system owners are required to be in compliance within three years of the rules publication in the Federal Register, which is pending, according to US EPA officials.
These new federal requirements represent additional responsibilities for public water systems, in a manner similar to what were then, newly-mandated Ohio EPA requirements implemented several years ago. Ohio EPA updated lead and copper rules in 2018 as a result of statutory amendments passed by the Ohio General Assembly in 2016, thereby adding some requirements beyond the federal rule at the time. For example, Ohio EPA already requires public water systems to complete and submit lead service line mapping; these maps need to be updated every five years. Ohio EPA also implemented strict notification timelines, which for most systems is two business days.
Ohio EPA does have principal forgiveness financing available through their Water Supply Revolving Loan Account program for lead service replacement.
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