Quick Reference Guide: LCR vs. LCRR vs. LCRI

The cost to comply with the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR) is estimated at between $130 million and $286 million, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

And this estimate came before the EPA’s announcement of the Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI), which will likely increase costs even further.

With so much at stake, understanding how the LCRR differs from the original Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) - and what may lie ahead in the LCRI - is a critical first step for states and water systems as they prepare for compliance.

In Unearth’s blog series, we’ve discussed the LCR and LCRR requirements broadly - and made some general predictions for the LCRI - but every detail in these rules is important. That’s why we’ve put together a side-by-side comparison of all three rules here.

The EPA offers some helpful resources on this topic, and we’ve brought it all together in one place - so you can easily understand the LCRR and prepare for the LCRI. If you’re new to these rules and haven’t checked out our introductory guide to the Lead and Copper Rule, we recommend you start there. For an exhaustive list of requirements, please review the full text of the LCRR.

With that said, let’s dive into the requirements.

Disclaimer: This blog post is not legal advice. The purpose of our series is to help unpack the Lead and Copper Rule but should not be relied on as legal counsel.

I. Key Vocab: Large, Small, and NTNCWS Water Systems

If you’re unfamiliar with “LSL,” “LSLR,” and “CCT”, take a moment to review these important concepts before diving into this blog. With that foundation, let’s define a few additional terms to understand whom the rule applies to:

Large Water System: A large water system serves more than 10,000 people.

Small Water System: A small water system serves 10,000 people or less.

Public Water System: A water system that serves drinking water to at least 15 service connections OR serves at least 25 people for at least 60 days a year.

a water tower in a field


There are three types of public water systems:

Community Water System (CWS): A public water system that provides water to the same customers annually.

Non-Transient, Non-Community Water Systems (NTNCWS): A public water system that provides water to at least 25 of the same people for at least 6 months each year. A hospital or school that maintains its own water system fits this category.

Transient, Non-Community Water System (TNCWS): A public water system that supplies water in a location where people don’t live for extended periods, such as a campground or gas station. These public water systems don’t need to comply with the Lead and Copper Rule.

So why are these terms important to the Lead and Copper Rule? The answer lies in the revisions to the LCR issued in 2021.

Flexibility for Small Water Systems and NTNCWS in the LCRR

One of the most controversial changes to the LCR is the flexibility given to small water systems.

In the LCRR, small public water systems and NTNCWSs that hit the rule’s “trigger level” develop an action plan with their state and can choose between CCT, LSLR, point-of-use devices, or replacement of lead-bearing materials. And this isn’t the only flexibility given to small water systems. Like the LCR, other requirements are adjusted throughout the LCRR to accommodate for the limited resources of small water systems.

Will there be flexibility for these systems in the LCRI?

When the EPA conducted public outreach in 2021 concerning the LCRR, many community members criticized the flexibility given to small water systems. 

It’s a reasonable question: If LSLR is the only sure way to get lead out of communities, then why allow water systems to avoid LSLR? And there’s a reasonable answer: smaller water systems simply don’t have the resources available to replace LSLs. The EPA must balance the fact that there’s no safe level of lead with the reality that many water systems wouldn’t be able to comply with compulsory LSLR.

That said, this may change with the EPA’s upcoming LCRI.

Small system flexibility interferes with an important federal goal: removing 100% of lead pipes in the U.S. There’s significant momentum behind comprehensive LSLR - a key focus behind the LCRI - and billions of dollars of federal funding that’s targeting water infrastructure. Because more federal funding and support are available now than at the time the LCRR was originally drafted, the EPA will need to reassess the pressure LSLR puts on small water systems and the urgency of this lead pipe replacement as they draft the LCRI.

Consequently, the EPA included small system flexibility among potential changes in the LCRI - though the EPA doesn’t go into any more detail on what these revisions may be. We’ll return to the tension between aggressive LSLR and resource-constrained water systems as we examine other potential revisions to the LCRI.

[Review EPA documentation]

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II. Lead Sampling

Testing drinking water is a critical first step in getting lead out of communities. Lead sampling helps answer, What are the lead levels? Where is the lead? What’s the root cause? And this data informs what actions a water system needs to take.

a water sampling bottle being filled at the tap
Source: Michigan Radio

LCR (1991) vs. LCRR (2021)

Ultimately, the LCRR increases the likelihood a water system will detect lead, surpass the “trigger” or “action” lead levels, and pursue LSLR by improving lead sampling accuracy and prioritizing homes with LSLs for testing.

Site Selection:

The LCR prioritizes sampling at sites that use lead pipes and plumbing and specifically requires systems to collect 50% of samples from sites with LSLs (assuming, of course, a water system has enough LSLs to sample). Notably, the LCR prioritizes copper pipes with lead solder installed between 1982 and the ban on lead pipes in its sampling.

The LCRR significantly increases the emphasis on LSLs while removing the priority on copper pipes with lead solder - requiring 100% of samples to come from LSL sites, if applicable. This ensures a system’s lead levels actually represent the lead risks faced by the most vulernable customers: residents with lead pipes.

Collection Method:

The LCR requires water systems to leave the water in a service line undisturbed for a minimum of 6 hours before then sampling the first liter of water from the tap.

While the LCRR maintains this requirement for homes without LSLs, it changes the first liter sample to a fifth liter sample for homes with LSLs. This ensures a system tests water that’s sat stagnant in the service line, not the internal plumbing, and reliably captures the LSL’s lead risk. Plus, the LCRR bans practices used to lower lead results (i.e., service line flushing and aerator cleaning or removal) and specifies that wide-mouth bottles be used in sampling to improve accuracy. 

a diagram showing the liters drawn in sampling
Source: University of Michigan Lead and Copper project FAQ


Frequency:

The LCR requires samples to be tested for both lead and copper. Water systems collect a number of samples determined by population size every six months. This can be reduced if a water system meets any of the following requirements:

  • Is a small water system that tests below the lead “action level”
  • Meets optimal water quality parameters
  • The lead and copper levels are below or equal to .005 mg/L for 2 consecutive 6-month sampling periods
  • Receives a 9-year sampling waiver as a system serving 3,300 people or less

On the other hand, the LCRR permits water systems to test only for lead if this sampling occurs more often than required for copper testing. Nothing changes for copper under the new rule, but the LCRR replaces the semi-annual lead sampling with a new framework that incorporates the lead “trigger level”:

  • A system must sample annually when the “trigger level” is exceeded and semi-annually when the “action level” is exceeded
  • When the lead levels are below the “trigger level,” a system must sample annually while a reduced number of sites are tested triennially, based on the same criteria as the LCR
  • With a waiver, sampling can occur every 9 years, in accordance with the LCR

Schools and Childcare Facilities:

Here is one of the most significant revisions to the LCR. Under the LCR, the only schools and childcare facilities that must be tested are NTNCWS - and this isn’t the responsibility of a public water system.

However, the LCRR requires systems to test the drinking water in 20% of elementary schools and 20% of childcare facilities per year - and they must test at secondary schools for a testing cycle of five years if requested. Systems must also conduct sampling if requested by any of these schools and facilities in the future. Notably, this requirement only applies to buildings with plumbing installed prior to January 1, 2014. After testing, sample results and public education materials are sent to those buildings that are tested, and water systems notify the local or state health department.

By expanding testing to schools and childcares, the LCRR will help protect those most vulnerable to lead.

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LCRI (2024): Lead Sampling

A key focus in the LCRI is improved lead sampling. Significantly, the EPA’s evaluating whether to delay the October compliance date for the tap sampling plans because of changes to these requirements.

The EPA has identified three potential areas for revisions:

1. Sampling Procedure

At LSL sites, the LCRR instructs water systems to test the fifth liter water sample to ensure the sample measures potential exposure from the lead service line, not household plumbing.

In the LCRI, however, the EPA’s indicated systems may be required to test both a first and fifth liter sample, and then use the sample with the highest lead levels for the 90th percentile calculation. Judging from a similar law in Michigan, this will culminate in more “action level” exceedances and compel intervention.

a diagram indicating which liters should be sampled
Source: NRDC


2. Site Selection

Following public comment, the EPA’s also noted it’s important to identify communities that are most at-risk of lead exposure. While the EPA hasn’t provided precise details on potential revision in this area, this could indicate a requirement for a certain percentage of sampling to occur within specific communities that are at higher risk levels.

3. Schools & Childcare

The EPA listed school and childcare sampling among its potential improvement but has yet to go into detail here. One challenge is the EPA’s limited authority over schools and childcare facilities. For this reason, the EPA is pursuing close collaboration with other federal agencies on the issue.

Nevertheless, the EPA did summarize some key recommendations from commenters, which hint at directions they may take in the LCRI. Commenters have suggested the EPA require sampling at all elementary and secondary schools, more frequent and representative building sampling, public reports, additional resources for these facilities, or further action by water systems to address high lead levels.

With significant changes ahead, water systems may need to wait on developing a tap sampling plan and prioritize other requirements - like LSL inventorying - that will see fewer revisions.

[Review EPA documentation]

[Return to Table of Contents]

III. Trigger and Action Levels

While lead sampling helps clarify lead risks, the “trigger” and “action” levels determine when and how water systems must intervene to address lead exposure. 

clean water flowing into a person's hands

LCR (1991) vs. LCRR (2021)

The LCR set the Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) for lead at 0, and makes it clear no level of lead in drinking water is tolerable. However, the MCLG isn’t enforceable. To compel action, the LCR created the lead “action level” of 15 ppb. If the highest 10% of a system’s lead samples - the 90th percentile (P90) - exceed 15 ppb, then the EPA requires a water system to take action and lower lead levels (see sections on CCT or LSLR, for instance).

The LCRR maintains the Maximum Contaminant Level Goal and the P90 15ppb lead “action level,” but initiates mitigation at a lower lead level through a new “trigger level.” The “trigger level” is set at 10 ppb in the 90th percentile. When exceeded, the EPA doesn’t require specific actions like those tied to the “action level,” but directs the water system to work with the state to develop a mitigation plan.

By initiating action at a lower level, the LCRR can minimize lead exposure through proactive CCT optimization and accelerate the removal of LSLs at water systems that weren’t required to improve their drinking water under the LCR.

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LCRI (2024): Trigger and Action Levels

Like lead sampling, the “trigger” and “action” levels are also a major focus of the LCRI. The EPA’s identified two notable problems with the LCRR:

1. The inclusion of a “trigger level” creates confusion and complicates compliance for water systems

Here, the EPA may remove the “trigger level” entirely to streamline the rule. In this, they’d likely lower the “action level” to ensure the LCRI remained robust. On the other hand, the EPA may retain the “trigger level” but focus on simplifying the requirements attached to it. Or the EPA may focus on non-regulatory action in the form of additional support and resources to systems and states - clarifying the rule as it stands and helping stakeholders comply.

However, these changes don’t address a more fundamental criticism of the LCRR.

2. The “action level” and “trigger level” expose customers to dangerous levels of lead while enabling water systems to avoid LSLR

While it’s unclear whether the EPA will remove the “trigger level”, it’s almost guaranteed the EPA will lower one or both of the lead levels because of their crucial role in the rule and public pressure to accelerate lead service line replacement.

In other words, the EPA could focus its energies on more robust LSLR program requirements alone, but these changes wouldn’t mean much if water systems weren’t required to take action. As a result, commenters have suggested lowering the “action level” to 10 ppb, 5 ppb, and even 1 ppb - or setting a Maximum Contaminant Level at 5 ppb.

Lowering the “action level” would have ripple effects throughout the rest of the rule, from LSLR to CCT.

[Review EPA documentation]

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IV. Corrosion Control Treatment (CCT)

When a water system detects high levels of lead, one of the first actions they’ll take is CCT. It’s true the LCRR prioritizes getting lead out of communities - not just minimizing its impacts - but CCT remains an essential tool in mitigating lead exposure. The LCRR promotes robust CCT monitoring, adoption, and optimization.

lead fragments in a large pile

LCR (1991) vs. LCRR (2021)

CCT Installation & Optimization:

Corrosion Control Treatment (CCT) is a complex part of the Lead and Copper Rule because implementation and optimization are determined by the makeup of a systems’ water. Since every systems’ water is different chemically, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Systems are required to work closely with states to determine optimal water quality parameters (OWQPs).

The LCR requires large water systems to install CCT while small water systems only need to conduct a study and potentially install CCT if they exceed the “action level.” And after two consecutive 6-month sampling periods below the “action level,” these small systems no longer need to comply.

The LCRR makes a few key changes by (1) requiring water systems to take action at lower lead levels, (2) building CCT re-optimization into the rule, and (3) mandating CCT for all systems if the “action level” is exceeded:

  • If a water system exceeds the “trigger level” and hasn’t installed CCT, their state may require them to conduct a CCT study. And if the “action level” is exceeded, all systems are required to operate CCT, regardless of their size. 
  • If a system exceeds the “trigger level” and runs CCT already, they must take steps to re-optimize their current CCT. Exceeding the “action level” assures re-optimization.

These measures not only optimize ongoing CCT but ensure more systems implement CCT in the first place, especially small systems that may have sidestepped the requirement in the past.

Treatment Method:

Among CCT strategies, the LCR lists alkalinity and pH adjustment, calcium hardness adjustment, and phosphate or silicate-based corrosion inhibitor. The LCRR removes calcium hardness as a method and requires that any phosphate inhibitor be orthophosphate.

Monitoring & Sampling:

The LCR requires large water systems to regularly monitor CCT within the distribution system and at entry points. Small water systems, however, must monitor only if they are exceeding the “action level.”

The LCRR doesn’t change the requirement for large water systems, but tightens monitoring for small systems. Small systems must document they are below the “action level” for two consecutive 6-month periods before they conclude monitoring. For a system to reduce distribution monitoring, they must test below the “trigger level” and meet state OWQPs.

Additionally, the LCRR revises sanitary survey review and requirements for source water monitoring and treatment:

  • Sanitary survey review: The LCR required treatment review during sanitary surveys while the LCRR specifies CCT and WQP data must be assessed and analyzed against EPA guidance.
  • Source water approval: The LCR required state approval for changes in source water and treatment only for systems on a reduced tap monitoring schedule. However, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan highlighted the risk in changing source water, and the LCRR now requires all systems to seek state approval.
  • Source water monitoring: The LCR mandates periodic source water monitoring for systems that treat their source water or for those who don’t yet have source water treatment but exceed the “action level.” The LCRR keeps much of this in place but allows systems to discontinue source water monitoring if they’ve already monitored their source water after exceeding the “action level,” the state did not require them to treat the source water, and there’s been no change in water sources.

All in all, the EPA’s revisions to CCT monitoring, sampling, and re-optimization help prevent a repeat of Flint’s water crisis elsewhere in the U.S.

Find-and-Fix:

Under the current LCR, a water system samples individual homes to determine their 90th percentile lead level and whether they’re required to take action within their community. But if an individual sample exceeds the “action level,” they’re not required to address that individual home.

The LCRR institutes a “Find-and-Fix” mandate. Even if there’s no community-wide “action level” exceedance, a water system still needs to address high lead levels at individual homes:

  • When an individual sample exceeds the “action level,” the system needs to collect tap samples at that specific site within 30 days. If there’s an LSL, they can use any liter sample volume. For a building with no LSL, however, they must follow the usual practice and use the first liter collected after a stagnation period.
  • If there’s CCT, the system needs to monitor WQP at or near the building.
  • The water system must perform any necessary corrective action and share the information with local public health officials. If a customer doesn’t cooperate, a water system must make two attempts and document the refusal or lack of response.

By focusing action on the customer-level, the LCRR ensures individuals who are disproportionately impacted by lead are protected - even if their community lead levels don’t raise any red flags.

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LCRI (2024): CCT

The EPA received feedback on the CCT requirements, but it’s not a primary focus of the LCRI. Instead, it’s listed as an “additional component” under consideration.

The EPA’s summarized several recommendations from commenters that may hint at changes in the LCRI:

  • Increased flexibility within the CCT requirements
  • Limits to small system flexibility within the rule
  • Improved oversight of CCT decisions
  • Expanded WQP monitoring
  • More robust monitoring after a change in source or treatment
  • Revisions to the implementation of “find-and-fix.”

That said, water systems should be able to move forward with current CCT requirements since the EPA hasn’t indicated major revisions in this area.

[Review EPA documentation]

[Return to Table of Contents]


V. Lead Service Line (LSL) Inventories

The Lead Service Line (LSL) inventory requirement is one of the most significant in the LSLR. It’ll be a major challenge for water systems as they begin work on compliance.

a diagram of a service line connecting a home to the water main
Source: Denver Water

LCR (1991) vs. LCRR (2021)

There is no requirement for a LSL inventory in the LCR. Yes, water systems developed lists of LSL materials to select sites for lead sampling - but these material lists weren’t complete, didn’t represent an entire system, weren’t published publicly, and didn’t get updated.

In the LCRR, an initial LSL inventory is required by October 16, 2024. This inventory must be public, updated annually or triennially (depending on the timing of lead sampling), and include the material type for all customer- and utility-owned service lines within a system.

The basis for LSLR, this record will include whether a service line is lead, non-lead (PVC, copper, etc.), galvanized steel in need of replacement, or lead status unknown. Galvanized lines that are or ever were downstream of an LSL and lead status unknown service lines are included within the water systems’ tally of LSLs - incentivizing proactive inspections and thorough records to bring this number down.

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the different material types of service lines
Source: DC Water


LCRI (2024): LSL Inventories

The EPA doesn’t include LSL inventories among the announced changes to the LCRI. Likely, inventories will remain untouched. However, the EPA did summarize three stakeholder recommendations for LSL inventories.

1. The LSL inventories should include lead connectors

2. Water systems should be given a deadline for complete LSL material identification

3. The LSL inventories don’t provide enough information to homeowners

It’s possible these concerns could influence revision, but the EPA’s made it clear LSL inventories are a fundamental step forward and shouldn’t be delayed any further. With this in mind, the October 16, 2024 compliance date is unlikely to change.

For more on the inventory requirement, check out our blog, Lead Service Line Inventories: Everything You Need to Know.

[Review EPA documentation]

[Return to Table of Contents]

VI. Lead Service Line Replacement (LSLR)

Since there’s no safe level for lead in drinking water, the EPA’s made it a priority to get the lead out of communities fast. Full Lead Service Line Replacement (LSLR) is a centerpiece of the LCRR and LCRI.

In practice, the LCR emphasized water treatment while permitting systems to delay or avoid replacing service lines. This is an area where the LCRR makes major changes.

a lead service line replacement using copper pipe
Source: NJ.com


LCR (1991) vs. LCRR (2021)

The LCR required water systems to replace LSLs at a rate of 7% annually if they exceeded the “action level.” This 7% was determined by the number of LSLs in the system at the time the “action level” was exceeded. That said, systems could end their LSLR program after their lead levels fell back below the 15 ppb for two consecutive 6-month sampling periods.

In their LSLR program, systems could “test out” an LSL if sampling showed low lead levels - counting an LSL as “replaced” even though the lead pipe remained in the ground. Systems could also count partial LSLR in their tally as long as they offered to replace the customer-owned LSL at the customer’s expense. Lastly, systems were required to offer lead sampling to a customer within 72 hours of LSLR and provide the results after they’ve been processed within 3 business days.

The LCRR strengthens these existing mandates, closes loopholes, and adds significant new LSLR requirements and customer protections:

  • REVISION: If a system exceeds the “action level,” they must replace a minimum of 3% of LSLs annually, down from the LCR’s 7%. This is the only change that communities argue has weakened existing requirements.
  • NEW: Systems must document two years of low lead levels - not one - to conclude their mandatory LSLR program.
  • NEW: When a large water system exceeds the “trigger level,” they must work with the state to set an annual goal for replacement. However, small water systems have flexibility to choose a different mitigation strategy.
  • REVISION: “Test outs” and partial LSLR no longer count toward a water system’s LSLR program. Only full LSLR contributes to state-determined goals or the annual 3% rate.
  • NEW: Water systems must replace their portion of the LSL when a resident provides notice of their decision to independently replace the customer-side LSL.
  • NEW: After an LSLR, a water system must provide a six-month supply of pitcher filters/cartridges to affected customers within 24 hours.
  • NEW: Systems must collect lead tap samples at replacement locations within 3 to 6 months of the LSLR.
  • NEW: Systems must replace galvanized service lines that have been downstream of an LSL because of lead trapped in these lines.
  • NEW: Systems must provide states with a LSLR program plan by October 16, 2024.

Ultimately, the LCRR discourages partial LSLR and ensures water systems can no longer avoid launching an LSLR program.

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a lead service line replacement using plastic pipe
Source: Chicago Tribune

LCRI (2024): LSLR

With pressure from the public and White House to remove 100% of lead pipes, the EPA is prioritizing the replacement of LSLs in its upcoming improvements. Put simply, LSLR is at the heart of the LCRI. Let’s examine seven key areas where the EPA may make improvements:

1. Raising the annual LSLR rate of 3% that’s required when the “action level” is exceeded

Since the LCR maintained a higher 7% rate, the change to 3% in the LCRR is particularly controversial. The EPA has also acknowledged only 5% of LSLs will be replaced within 35 years under the LCRR - a far cry from the Biden-Harris goal. For this reason, it’s possible the EPA will increase the LSLR rate back to 7% or even higher.

2. Exchanging the annual goal-based LSLR for something more robust when the “trigger level” is exceeded

The EPA’s also noted that the annual goal-based LSLR determined by states is unlikely to be higher than 3%. Since the EPA called out this detail, it’s possible they’ll set a minimum LSLR rate when the “trigger level” is exceeded.

3. Extending the lead sampling window for both mandatory and goal-based LSLR

Significantly, the EPA noted LSLR programs can be concluded “in as little as two years” once a water system no longer exceeds the “action level” and “in as little as one year” once the 90th percentile falls below the “trigger level”. Here, the EPA’s language - “in as little as” - makes it clear the compliance window isn’t long enough.

One course of action is to extend these time windows and compel water systems to continue LSLR for longer. Certainly, the LCRR already revised the rule along these lines when it lengthened the 1-year window to 2-years for an “action level” exceedance. But there’s also a more dramatic option.

4. Requiring comprehensive LSLR within a specific time frame

The EPA could replace the current system entirely by requiring comprehensive LSLR by a certain date. This date could be determined by system size, number of LSLs, or lead sampling. In the end, comprehensive LSLR aligns better with the EPA’s focus on getting the lead out of communities as quickly as possible.

5. Forbidding or further limiting partial LSLR 

Another enduring concern for commenters is partial LSLR. While the LCRR discourages partial LSLR, it doesn’t forbid it entirely.

It’s unlikely the EPA will ban partial LSLR completely considering stakeholder concern that partial LSLR is sometimes unavoidable. However, it’s probable the EPA will further restrict partial LSLR by specifying in which scenarios it may be permitted or by accompanying partial LSLR with more rigorous customer protections and outreach.

One priority for the EPA is accelerating LSLR, but restricting partial replacements will also support the EPA’s other key objective: ensuring equitable LSLR. If partial LSLRs are allowed, this will affect lower-income residents who can’t afford to replace their side of the line. Ultimately, equity is front-and-center in many of the changes to the LCRR.

6. Prioritizing LSLR within low-income communities and for residents disproportionately affected by lead

This revision addresses the concern low-income residents won’t be able to afford LSLR and historically underinvested communities won’t have LSLs replaced in routine work. Commentators worry water systems may complete the majority of LSLRs within wealthier communities and may not intervene in neighborhoods that are facing high lead risks.

To remedy this, the EPA may require water systems to complete a certain percentage of replacements within lower-income communities or areas with higher lead levels.

7. Ensuring renters have access to clean drinking water

Commenters are also concerned building owners won’t pay for LSLR for renters. It’s unclear what the EPA can do in this situation, but it’s possible the EPA could require water systems to complete a certain number of LSLRs for rental properties.

On the other hand, the EPA may address this issue through revision to public education requirements - so renters are aware of lead risks and can make informed decisions about housing.

[Review EPA documentation]

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VII. Public Education, Community Awareness, & Reporting

Over the next 35 years, the EPA estimates community awareness and LSL inventories alone could drive the replacement of between 213,500 and 350,000 LSLs. In other words, transparency into lead risks at the local, state, and federal level helps get the lead out of communities: residents help in inspections or request service line replacement, neighborhoods organize, and politicians act.

Accordingly, the EPA’s expanded requirements for LSL outreach, public education, and reporting within the LCRR.

a water system water discussing a replacement with a customer
Source: Louisville Water

LCR (1991) vs. LCRR (2021)

LSL Outreach:

In the LCR, water systems must offer to replace a customer-owned LSL when replacing the public side. When conducting a partial replacement, systems notify affected customers 45 days beforehand on lead risks and how to limit exposure. If there’s no service line replacement, however, customers may not know they have an LSL.

This changes In the LCRR. Water systems must publish their LSL inventory publicly and inform all customers annually if they are drinking water from a service line that’s lead or lead status unknown. And for even greater exposure, water systems with over 50,000 people must publish the LSL inventory online.

Additionally, if a water system is running a goal-based LSLR program, they must encourage LSL customers to join the program and reach out to individual customers if the water system doesn’t reach its replacement goal. Water systems are also required to include program information in public education materials issued after an “action level” exceedance.

Ultimately, the LCRR encourages more thorough and proactive communication with customers, so they can take measures to better protect themselves from lead exposure. 

Public Education:

The LCR requires community water systems to publish education material in their yearly Consumer Confidence Report (CCR). Systems that exceed the “action level” must provide information about lead sources, health risks, how customers can minimize exposure, and further resources for lead information. Finally, systems must notify customers of lead results within 30 days of tap sampling.

The LCRR updates the health information and language in the CCR and requires water systems to inform customers on how to access the LSL inventory and tap sampling results.

While the current public education requirements remain if a water system exceeds the “action level,” the LCRR does specify systems must notify customers within 24 hours. Additionally, the LCRR shortens the notification window for customers with lead sample results dramatically from within 30 days to within 3 days. The LCRR also requires systems to notify affected residents when utility work could disturb LSLs and increase the risk of lead exposure.

By fostering community awareness, the LCRR is expected to accelerate LSLR as customers initiate replacement.

Reporting:

The LCR requires states to report key information to the EPA:

  • All 90th percentile lead levels for systems above 3,300
  • The lead levels for systems at or below 3,300 if they exceed the “action level”
  • The systems that are obligated to begin LSLR programs and when their programs start replacement
  • The systems that are implementing CCT

To improve visibility, the LCRR expands these current requirements by removing the exception for systems at or below 3,300 customers: states must report all systems’ 90th percentile lead levels. What’s more, states must report every water systems’ number of LSLs and lead status unknown service lines as well as states’ OWQPs and what systems are optimizing CCT.

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LCRI (2024): Public Education, Community Awareness, & Reporting

Despite receiving several recommendations, the EPA doesn’t list public education or customer outreach among its top priorities in the LCRI.  Instead, the EPA includes “risk communication” as one of the subjects under consideration for the LCRI and doesn’t provide additional details.

The EPA does summarize commenter recommendations, however, and these may hint at potential improvements. Commenters stress the necessity of accessible public education materials, clearer and more proactive communication, outreach to renters, and partnerships with local communities. There’s also a push to streamline these requirements to ease the compliance burden for water systems.

Will these recommendations make it into the LCRI? It’s too early to tell.

Nevertheless, it’s not too early to prepare for LCRI compliance.

[Review EPA documentation]

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VIII. Digital Transformation Enables Dynamic Compliance

The Challenge: Limited Resources & Staffing

A key priority for water systems is developing a thorough LSL inventory as soon as possible.

First, the EPA’s indicated the October 16, 2024 compliance date won’t change for initial LSL inventories. Second, the more robust an LSL inventory, the better. Thorough records inform decision-making, lower risk, and cut costs by reducing the number of unknown service lines and the ultimate tally of LSLs.

But this is easier said than done.

Proactively digitizing records, centralizing data, or organizing large-scale inspections is asking a lot of small water systems. These systems don’t have the employees or technology to get a headstart on the Lead and Copper Rule.

This is where innovation at the state or municipal level can help jumpstart LSL inventories and support water systems as they adapt to future EPA guidance and rule revisions.

The Solution: Innovation

Cloud-based geospatial software - like Unearth’s Lead and Copper Rule solution - can help ease the burden of LCR compliance at small systems through dynamic asset, data, and work management. In fact, the EPA’s awarded Unearth a grant for this very reason.

Unlike an in-house solution - which may be clunky or quickly grow out-of-date - Unearth equips teams with simple, yet powerful tools that are available on any device. Unearth’s OnePlace software can also adapt to new EPA guidance and rulings to help you stay compliant.

Unearth's lead service line solution on a laptop

Organize your records on a multi-layered map, leverage purpose-built forms for real-time LSL inspections, and streamline collaboration and reporting in one place.

Learn how you can prepare for the new LCRR by booking a free consultation with an industry expert today.

IX. 7 Resources for Understanding the Lead and Copper Rule

Want to learn more about the Lead and Copper Rule? Have a question?

We found the following resources helpful in developing this guide:

1. The text of the Lead and Copper Rule

This is an obvious one. Nothing beats reading the actual text of the Lead and Copper Rule.

That said, if you’re looking to understand the rule’s history and the precise differences between the LCR, LCRR, and LCRI, we recommend the EPA’s rulings on the Lead and Copper Rule in 2021.

2. The initial promulgation of the LCRR in January, 2021

This EPA ruling implemented the LCRR in January, 2021, before Executive Order 13990 postponed these revisions.

This January document explains stakeholder concerns, the origin and purpose of the LCRR, and how the revisions improve on the LCR.

The rulings in March and June are also worth reading to understand why the LCRR was postponed as well as the motivation behind the LCRI.

3. The final implementation of the LCRR in December, 2021

The EPA’s final ruling on the LCRR in 2021 explores commenters’ concerns with the LCRR and clarifies why the EPA decided to maintain the LCRR while pursuing future LCRI. There is also a section explaining the goals of the LCRI, which sheds light on potential revisions.

4. The Biden-Harris plan to replace 100% of lead pipes

You can’t understand the LCRR and LCRI without unpacking 2021’s political context.

Announced alongside the LCRR implementation, the Biden-Harris plan to replace all lead pipes highlights how coordinated funding, regulation, and non-regulatory actions will reduce lead exposure across the U.S.

5. A general overview of the LCR on the EPA’s website

There’s a lot here.

In addition to a summary and history of the LCR, the EPA links to…

  • An infographic comparing the impact of the LCR vs. LCRR in a hypothetical community

6. The EPA’s docket on the LCRR

With over 1600 documents, the EPA’s docket on the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions covers everything you need to know about the LCRR and feedback gathered by the EPA between April and August of 2021.

7. Unearth’s complete guide to the LCR, LCRR, and LCRI

Shameless plug. If you’re intimidated by a stack of EPA documents, check out this guide to understand why we have the LCRR and what’s behind the LCRI.