With the ongoing situation in Flint, Mich., we thought we’d share our responses to questions from a recent media inquiry about lead in drinking water.
How common are water lines with the potential to leach lead? Are they present in every water system? Every water system built in a certain era?
- There are many, many service lines across America. Each building served by a public water system has a service line. Only a fraction of these lines are made of lead. The actual number is not known. The most recent estimate is 6.5 million lead service lines. This estimate was prepared for AWWA, and the study is now in peer-review.
- Lead service lines are not present in every water system. You will find them in older communities and older portions of communities.
- Lead service lines were used in the 1800s and early 1900s. Nationally, by mid-century their use was infrequent. Their use was banned by federal law in 1986.
- Whether or not lead service lines are found in a particular system, even older systems, is affected by local circumstances and practice at the time. There are many communities where lead was not used – your local water system and plumbing inspectors will be familiar with typical practice in your community.
How common is it for municipalities to build replacement value of water lines into their water rates?
- In most communities ownership of the service line is shared between the customer and the water system. When a water system replaces a water main it is common practice to replace the portion of the service line it owns. This is a capital expense that is paid for through the water system’s rates.
- The portion that is owned by the customer can and should be replaced at the same time. Because this portion of the line is the customer’s property water systems seldom pay for replacing this portion.
- Some communities have identified ways to assist customers pay for replacing the portion of the service line they own.
What can municipalities do about laterals that often are responsibility of the homeowner? If the lateral is leeching lead, how is the municipality to know?
- Corrosion control is practiced to reduce the leach of lead and other metals into the water supply. This begins with the water supply selected (lake, river, aquifer), the treatment provided and subsequent maintenance of water quality in the distribution system.
- As part of customer service, water systems are prepared to answer customer questions. This includes information about the system’s Lead and Copper Rule monitoring that includes samples from lead service lines if they are present in the community. But more importantly, the system can provide information on options for getting your water tested with available local resources.
- If a homeowner wants to know if they have a lead service line their utility can help them determine how likely it might be for their line to be lead and how to look for a lead service line.
What should municipal leaders across the state be doing and/or be aware of when reviewing local water rates and future maintenance of the local water system?
- AWWA has provided a number of resources to assist water system communicate effectively with both elected bodies and customers about the need for sustainable water rates.
- EPA, AWWA and other organizations have joined in a collaborative effort promoting effective utility management, which places a particular emphasis on asset management, a management framework for tracking and prioritizing infrastructure investment.
- Identifying and prioritizing opportunities for water loss control.
- [in the context of lead service lines – reviewing available information, reviewing how system communicates with its customers and using available local tools working toward full lead service line replacement.]
To learn more, visit DrinkTap's Lead In Water webpage.