EPA Announces Lead and Copper Rule Proposal

(October 16, 2019) – EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed proposed revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) on October 10 which will impact public water systems under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

This is the first major revision EPA has made to the rule since 1991 and maintains the current lead action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb), but the proposal also includes a new lead “trigger level” of 10 ppb where systems that hit this threshold would be required to reoptimize their existing treatment. Although this rulemaking will directly impact the drinking water community, there are some considerations that could have indirect consequences on the public clean water community.

In 2018, NACWA provided initial input on EPA’s LCR efforts highlighting the need for flexibility and not a one-sized-fits-all approach to implementing corrosion control technology (CCT). NACWA had concerns with a standardized approach that encourages orthophosphate as the optimal method of corrosion control because downstream clean water utilities are not only witnessing more stringent effluent limits for phosphorus, but they are also bearing the cost of excess nutrient removal from upstream phosphorus inputs.

Unfortunately, the proposed LCR specifically points to orthophosphate as a standardized approach – it removes calcium hardness as an option to corrosion control and specifies that CCT must be orthophosphate. Essentially, this requirement removes the flexibility inherent in a utility’s lead and copper management.  While protection of public health via appropriate CCT is critical, the move towards use of orthophosphate as the standard could have significant impacts on clean water utilities. 

The rule may also impact NACWA members through community affordability concerns.  It is likely that many of the rule’s new requirement will cause many utilities to have to raise drinking water rates.  To the extent that ratepayers will be paying higher drinking water and clean water rates at the same time, that could exacerbate local affordability challenges.  The recent work that NACWA, the American Water Works Association, and the Water Environment Federation have done to develop new affordability metrics will be critical to addressing this issue. 

NACWA is continuing to review the proposed rulemaking and will update members accordingly. Once the prepublication version in published in the Federal Register, there is a 60-day notice for public comment. NACWA convened a LCR Workgroup that has focused on particular impacts of orthophosphate as a control measure to POTWs. If members would like to join the Workgroup, please contact Emily Remmel, NACWA’s Director of Regulatory Affairs.