10 Years to Replace Lead Pipes: The EPA’s New Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI)
Heard about the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI)?
It’s the newest iteration in the agency’s ongoing efforts to protect our nation’s residents from drinking lead-contaminated water.
The biggest highlight by far of the LCRI is the aim of “Achieving 100% Lead Pipe Replacement within 10 years.”
It’s an ambitious goal. But it’s doable, and the EPA has already provided a roadmap on how to get there through its prior Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR).
It’s also a goal that many seem to champion. According to the American Water Works Association, “AWWA strongly supports EPA’s goal of removing all lead service lines as quickly as feasible from our communities, on both public and private property.”
What’s the LCRI All About?
The goal of the LCRI is to eliminate lead contamination from our nation’s drinking water. It’s as simple as that.During the lead water contamination disaster in Flint, Michigan, almost 100,000 people were exposed to lead poisoning. That event spurred the creation of the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR), an update to its prior Lead and Copper Rule that lists requirements for public water systems designed to prevent a repeat of what happened in Flint.
The LCRR is a strong step toward achieving this goal. It requires water systems to create a lead service line inventory (LSL) to identify all lead pipes in their systems, and to communicate with the public about this work (among other things).
But it doesn’t go all the way and actually require water systems to replace lead pipes.
The Lead and Copper Rule Improvement (LCRI) does. In proposing a 100% replacement of all lead pipes in U.S. water systems, the LCRI represents the last step in the process the EPA started when it made the LCRR into a rule on December 16, 2021.
Check out our in-depth guide to the LCRR, including guidance on how to create your service line inventory, or continue reading to learn all about the new Lead and Copper Rule Improvements.
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The LCRI Is Not a Rule Yet
The first thing to note about the LCRI is that right now, it’s just a draft.
Before any federal agency can make a new rule, it must first make it available for public comment.
That means that anyone can comment publicly on the draft rule. It also means the rule hasn’t yet gone into effect.
How Commenting Works on Draft Rules
The draft rule will be open for public comment for 60 days.
After collecting comments, the EPA will sift through them and potentially incorporate feedback into the rule.
Anyone who likes can comment during this period, and all are encouraged to do so.
“EPA is sharing the proposed rule with the public to provide an opportunity for all stakeholders—from drinking water consumers to water systems to public health professionals—to share their feedback.”
– The EPA
After the 60-day comment window closes, the EPA will publish its final proposal for the rule to the Federal Register. According to the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA), with past rules the EPA has historically taken about 3-6 months to review comments and publish its final proposal.
Here are your next steps for commenting:
- Learn about commenting. Read the online instructions for submitting written comments here.
- Make your comment. To make your comment, visit the Federal Register and search for the public docket associated with the LCRI: Docket ID Number EPA-HQ-OW-2022-0801.
Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI) Education
The EPA will be holding informational events to share information and answer questions about the LCRI.
Here’s what it has scheduled so far:
- December 6, 2023—Informational webinar for the public hosted by the EPA. Learn more and register. (It’s unclear if the session will be recorded for on-demand viewing.)
- January 16, 2024—Virtual public hearing for the public hosted by the EPA, at which the public will be invited to provide the EPA with verbal comments. Learn more and register.
When Will LCRI Become a Rule?
The Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI) will become a rule by October 16, 2024.
October 16, 2024 is also the deadline for all public water systems in the U.S. to meet the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR). Under the LCRR, water systems must meet a list of requirements related to lead piping, including the creation of a lead service line inventory (LSL).
The timing means that the day on which water systems must have inventories created, thereby identifying the location of all lead pipes in their systems, is also the day on which replacement requirements for those pipes go into effect.
Which makes sense. In reality, some water systems will already be starting to make—and in some rare cases possibly even implement—replacement plans. But the new LCRI turns that likelihood into a mandated fact.
Key Provisions of the Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI)
In the opening of this article, we wrote that the LCRI’s biggest highlight is the goal of replacing all lead pipes in 10 years.
But there are several other provisions to the LCRI.
Here is the full list:
- Achieving 100% lead pipe replacement within 10 years. This means the replacement deadline will be October 16, 2034 at the latest, given that the rule will go into effect by October 16, 2024.
- Locating legacy lead pipes. Doing this should be achieved by the lead service line inventory requirement in the LCRR—but in case water systems need an incentive, this requirement is also part of the new LCRI.
- Improving tap sampling. The LCRI proposes key updates to improve tap sampling for lead contamination, including the requirement to “collect first liter and fifth liter samples at sites with lead service lines and use the higher of the two values when determining compliance with the rule.”
- Lowering the lead action level. The LCRI proposes lowering the lead action level from 15 µg/L to 10 µg/L. The lead action level refers to the level at which a water system must “inform the public and take action to reduce lead exposure.” Learn more here.
- Strengthening protections to reduce exposure. Where several lead action level overages are recorded, water systems will have to: 1) Distribute certified lead filters to consumers; and 2) Make sure consumers know about these free certified lead filters.
Learn More about the Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI)
As more information comes out on the LCRI we’ll be sure to share it with you.
In the meantime, here are some additional resources in case you’d like to dive deeper:
- Proposed Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (official EPA announcement)
- LCRI press release (from the EPA)