The EPA issues a long-awaited draft proposal to modify federal rules for lead in drinking water. The EPA also announces a low-interest water infrastructure loan for Indiana, and its inspector general audits the agency’s response to Hurricane Irma. The BLM acting director calls proposals to ban new oil and gas leases on federally managed lands “absolutely insane.” And lastly, Congress returns this week with hearings on pathways to net-zero carbon emissions, implementing the 2018 farm bill, and technologies for lead reduction.
“It would be absolutely devastating. Not only to the American West, but to the entire country.” — William Perry Pendley, acting director of the Bureau of Land Management when asked his thoughts on proposals by Democratic presidential candidates to ban new oil and gas leases on federally managed public lands. The BLM manages 245 million acres of surface land (one-tenth of the country’s land mass) and 700 million acres of underground mineral rights, primarily in the western states. Pendley, who was named acting director in July, was speaking at the annual conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists.
By the Numbers
$436 million: Loan to the Indiana Finance Authority to assist with construction of 23 water projects. Those projects will benefit communities large and small, including a tunnel system in the Indianapolis metro area (pop. 867,125) to reduce sewer overflows and new treatment plants in Greensburg (11,492) and Woodburn (1,579). (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
New Lead Regulations Proposed
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a long-awaited draft proposal to modify federal rules for lead in drinking water.
The Lead and Copper Rule is one of the most complicated federal drinking water rules because it focuses on water quality at the treatment plant and at the tap, as well as on the pipes in the ground. The agency’s proposal is lengthy, listing dozens of new requirements for utilities, including:
- Follow-up testing at homes where samples show more than 15 parts per billion of lead.
- Test at least 20 percent of primary/secondary schools and licensed day cares per year within the utility’s service area.
- Notify homes that tested above 15 parts per billion within 24 hours instead of 30 days.
- Replace the utility owned portion of the lead service line if the homeowner wants to replace their side.
- Develop a plan for replacing lead service lines.
There are no changes to copper testing requirements, though.
There is also no change in the “action level” that initiates changes in how utilities operate. The action level is more than 10 percent of tested homes having lead levels above 15 parts per billion.
However, the draft rule adds a “trigger level” if 10 percent of tested homes have lead levels at 10 parts per billion. Exceeding the trigger level forces utilities to reevaluate chemical treatment they use to reduce corrosion.
Environmental groups dismissed the proposal as a weakening of federal oversight. Their primary objection is a provision that grants utilities more time to remove lead service lines. These are the pipes that run from water mains to the house and are the main source of lead contamination. Removing them, health experts say, is the only way to protect children’s health.
Currently utilities testing above the action level must replace around 7 percent of lead service lines per year. The EPA’s draft proposal allows them to replace only 3 percent per year. This applies to utilities serving more than 10,000 people.
The EPA estimates that between 6.3 million and 9.3 million homes have lead service lines.
The agency is taking public comments on the draft rule for 60 days. Submit them via www.regulations.gov using docket number EPA-HQ-OW-2017-0300. A summary of the proposed changes is found here.
Studies and Reports
EPA Hurricane Response
The Office of the Inspector General audited the EPA regional office’s response to drinking water and sewer troubles caused by Hurricane Irma. The hurricane hit Florida in 2017, knocked out power to half the state, and tallied $50 billion in residential and commercial property damage.
The audit found that the regional office responded quickly. Working with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, officials assessed more than 2,200 water and wastewater systems. Results were loaded into a database that displayed the systems’ operational status.
The inspector general’s report also found room for improvement. The regional office had not conducted any emergency response trainings alongside state partners and it had not finalized its operating procedures manual. Regular training exercises and standardized practices could improve response time, the report concluded.
On the Radar
Congressional Committee Hearings
On October 15, the House Science Committee holds a field hearing in Bloomfield, New Jersey, to discuss technologies to reduce lead exposure.
On October 17, the House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing titled The Case for Climate Optimism: Realistic Pathways to Achieving Net-Zero Emissions.
On October 17, the Senate Agriculture Committee discusses implementation of the 2018 farm bill.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton