EPA Approves Denver Lead Pipe Removal Plan
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently approved a nearly $700 million plan to remove all lead water pipes in Denver based on the results of a successful pilot program. The Lead Reduction Program Plan will work to reduce lead in Denver’s drinking water.
“Denver Water’s approach to tackling lead in drinking water has been remarkable and an example for other communities across the country,” said EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker.
“Thanks to new funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law the utility’s customers can expect an even faster lead service line replacement schedule delivering health protections for children and adults across the Denver area.”
About the Project
In 2019, the EPA issued the first lead variance in the country for Denver Water. The Agency then approved the initial variance to evaluate if Denver Water’s alternative approach to addressing a lead action level exceedance could be effective.
Denver Water also launched the project to replace lead water lines at 64,000 to 84,000 properties over the next 15 years, starting in 2020. The utility company also reportedly gave customers free water filters a pitchers, changing the chemistry of its water treatment method to keep lead levels in check.
Testing from a decade ago has shown that Denver has reportedly had high levels of lead. According to reports, Denver Water has replaced 15,000 lead pipes to date.
@EPA has found that Denver's unique #Lead Reduction Program has been effective!— WaterWorld Magazine (@WaterWorld) December 5, 2022
The city's approach, using pH and alkalinity #treatment paired with community-specific action, has been more effective than conventional #orthophosphate treatment.
After evaluating data, the EPA as announced the approval of another variance to allow Denver Water to continue with the current plan which reportedly has been shown to be more effective than orthophosphate treatment, the method of water treatment which would have been required under federal and state regulations.
Additionally, Denver Water will receive $76 million in funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law to accelerate the pace of the lead service line replacement actions specified in the plan.
According to the EPA’s release, as a result of its first-of-its-kind lead variance approval, Denver Water will continue to:
“Denver Water’s first priority is sustaining our communities by protecting the health of our customers,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water’s CEO/Manager. “We thank EPA and our community partners for working with us to ensure we successfully implement this program.
“The water we deliver to our customers is lead-free, but lead from customer-owned service lines can enter the water supply to homes. Removing these lines is the most effective way to eliminate this source of lead exposure, and we are committed to this program until every lead service line has been removed.”
Federal officials have said that Denver Water’s unique approach could be a model for other cities. This includes the removal of the lead pipes, handing out filters, changing the water treatment methods and holding community meets to persuade residents to grant officials access to their property to replace lead pipes.
The Associated Press reports that officials are targeting lead pipe replacement near schools and daycares. With the new EPA approval, what was a trial run can now move forward in full.
Recent MI Lead Pipe Removal
Last month, it was reported that the accelerated campaign to replace aging lead water service lines in the City of Benton Harbor was nearing completion, almost five months ahead of schedule. As of Nov. 11, the project was 99.2% complete, with 4,500 water service lines having been replaced or verified non-lead. The project was a result of three years of testing revealing that Benton Harbor’s water system lead levels in its tap water were too high.
Based on preliminary data submitted by water suppliers in 2020, approximately 331,000 service lines across Michigan were known or likely to contain lead, roughly 12% of the total service lines in the state. An additional approximately 314,000 service lines were reportedly of unknown material.
The state’s updated Lead and Copper Rule under the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act requires communities to replace an average of 5% of their total lead service lines (LSLs) each year, totaling 100% replacement in 20 years. However, if a water supply has an action level exceedance, it must increase the replacement rate to 7% each year.
While the LCR did not require Benton Harbor to remove 7% of its LSLs per year, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) proactively ordered the city to do so for the 12 months beginning in July 2021.
In response, Governor Whitmer called for the process to occur on an expedited timeline of 100% replacement over the next 18 months, by March 2023. The administration also secured more than $18 million for LSLs replacements. Almost a year ago, Benton Harbor launched its first round of replacements.
The Associated Press reported that, in December of last year, tests revealed that lead levels in the city’s tap water had dropped, indicating that treatments efforts meant to prevent pipes from leaching lead into drinking water were helping.
Last month, Michigan Health and Human Services (MDHHS) reported that less than 40 more inspections need to be completed to finalize the project. This progress is updated daily on the Benton Harbor project dashboard.
According to the Department’s release, state and local officials also reiterated their ongoing commitment to Benton Harbor residents as it moves towards the next phase of reducing in-home lead exposure risks. Lead-reducing filters, bottled water, free home lead inspections and abatement services will reportedly continue to be offered.
US Lead Action Plan
At the end of last year, the White House released its Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law, to deliver clean drinking water, replace lead pipes and remediate lead paint. The goal of the plan is to replace all lead pipes in the next decade.
According to the White House, approximately 10 million American households and 400,000 schools land childcare centers are served by a lead service line or pipe. About 24 million housing units have lead-based paint hazards, which reportedly 4 million of house young children.
The plan, according to the White House Fact Sheet, features 15 new actions with more than 10 federal agencies. These actions are divided into three categories, including getting resources to communities, updating rules and strengthen enforcement and reducing exposure in disadvantaged communities, schools, daycare centers and public housing.
This includes $2.9 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure law for lead pipe replacement to states, tribes and territories; providing guidance and technical assistance for lead service lines and removal projects; and the announcement of the development of a new regulation to protect communities from lead in drinking water, among other initiatives.
In terms of funding, in additional to the $350 billion provided in the American Rescue Plan, the White House is investing $15 billion of direct funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law for lead service line replacements through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.
The White House states that low-income people and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to the risks of lead-contaminated drinking water, including Non-Hispanic Black people being more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic white people to live in moderately or severely substandard housing.