EPA finds Denver’s unique Lead Reduction Program effective

Dec. 2, 2022
The agency issued a final variance after finding that Denver Water’s unique approach to lead reduction — pH and alkalinity treatment paired with community-specific action — has been more effective than conventional orthophosphate treatment approaches.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it has approved Denver Water’s approach for reducing lead in drinking water.

The agency issued a final variance under the Safe Drinking Water Act, allowing Denver Water to continue to implement its Lead Reduction program Plan.

The plan consists of a set of lead reduction actions, which will work together to reduce lead in Denver’s drinking water. Denver Water is also receiving $76 million in funding to accelerate the pace of the lead service line replacement actions in the plan.

“Denver Water’s approach to tackling lead in drinking water has been remarkable and an example for other communities across the country,” says 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.

As a result of EPA’s lead variance approval, Denver Water will continue to:

  • Replace all lead service lines at no direct cost to customers
  • Control lead corrosion with pH and alkalinity treatment
  • Determine the locations of lead service lines that connect homes and buildings to water mains
  • Provide a water pitcher filter certified to remove lead to customers with lead service lines
  • Conduct extensive community outreach and education

In 2019, EPA issued the first lead variance in the country for Denver Water. EPA approved the initial variance to evaluate if Denver Water’s alternative approach to addressing a lead action level exceedance could be effective. After evaluating data, EPA is approving another variance to allow Denver Water to continue with the current plan which 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.

Denver Water is placing a priority on underserved communities and homes with large numbers of infants and children. Specifically, Denver Water is ensuring that areas with environmental justice concerns receive the same or better rates of both lead service line replacements and filter outreach and education compared to the overall service area.

“Denver Water’s first priority is sustaining our communities by protecting the health of our customers,” says 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.”

"Local, state and federal partners collaborated to develop and implement this innovative approach, which has proven to be a success for public health, environmental protection and environmental justice over the last three years," says Ron Falco, Safe Drinking Water Program Manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. "The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is excited to continue overseeing this great work."