Spring 2022 Water Quality Industry Regulatory Update

March 4, 2022

Infrastructure overview & regulatory landscape for the water treatment industry heading into 2022

About the author:

Jordan Kari is regulatory and government affairs coordinator for the Water Quality Association. Kari can be reached at [email protected].

Drinking Water Infrastructure

This past year there have been significant legislative and regulatory advancements for the water treatment industry and drinking water as a whole. With the passage of H.R. 3684 — Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also know as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) in November 2021, allocating more than $50 billion to the U.S. EPA to address drinking water infrastructure. This historic investment in our nation’s drinking water has dramatically changed the approach to addressing notable topics, including the replacement of lead service lines and emerging contaminants. We will briefly go over some of the highlights from the BIL and discuss the larger impacts on the water treatment industry.

  • $15 billion for Lead Service Line Replacement (LSLR);
  • $11.7 billion for Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRF);
  • $4 billion to address emerging contaminants through the Drinking Water SRF; and
  • $5 billion to address emerging contaminants in disadvantaged communities.

A large majority of the water infrastructure funding in the BIL is dedicated to improvements within municipal systems, but the law does include some provisions involving the point-of-use/point-of-entry (POU/POE) industry. In particular, the law revises the EPA’s Small, Underserved, and Disadvantaged Communities (SUDC) Grant Program to allow states to use EPA grant funding on POU/POE systems. These investments into drinking water and the POU/POE market bring substantial exposure to the water treatment industry, and ultimately, supporting safe drinking water for all Americans.

Small, Underserved & Disadvantages Communities

The Biden Administration’s plans to tackle a litany of different drinking water-related issues are centered on the notion of supporting underserved and disadvantaged communities through environmental justice practices. An unfortunate direct consequence of the redlining of communities has resulted in a disproportionate exposure to environmental health hazards among low-income and communities of color (Abdi & Andrews, 2018). With large investments into drinking water and grant programs, the current administration is making considerable efforts in addressing these problems.

More specifically, the big-ticket item on the agenda is the replacement of lead service lines, which have been plaguing the nation’s infrastructure since the ban on these service lines came into force in 1986 (Introduction to Lead). With an estimated 6 to 10 million lead service lines in use, the BIL is the first step in achieving President Biden’s goal of removing 100% of lead service lines; however, there is still a substantial amount of work and funding needed to achieve such a target. (Cornwell, D.A., Brown, R.A. and Via, S.H. (2016)). According to EPA, water utilities must invest more than $400 billion in infrastructure investments over the next 20 years to address the issue and restore the networks of transmission lines, water mains under streets, and service lines that deliver water to the public (EDF, 2020) (EPA Office of Water, 2018).

Continuing along this parallel, the EPA has made major steps in addressing contaminants collectively. The current administration has laid the groundwork to tackling emerging contaminants, including lead and per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These drinking water contaminants are arguably the most highly debated and contentious issues in the water world.

Lead & Copper Rule Revisions & Improvements

December 16th was a big day for the EPA and activists across the country. It marked the effective date for the agency’s implementation of the Trump Administration’s Lead & Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR), as well as the unveiling of the Biden Administration’s Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan, a comprehensive strategy to addressing lead.

The agency’s review of the rule highlighted notable areas for further support, including Lead Service Line Replacement (LSLR); Re-evaluation of compliance sampling; Action & Trigger Levels; and analyzing the LCRR implementation through an environmental justice perspective. Although the EPA intends to propose further revisions to the rule through the Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI), the agency’s implementation of the LCRR will bring significant changes that affect the water treatment industry.

  • The action level remains at 15 parts per billion (ppb), and a new trigger level has been created at 10 ppb to require additional planning, monitoring and treatment;
  • Allows community water systems serving 10,000 or more people and all Non-Transient Non-Community Water Systems to elect to maintain POU systems certified to remove lead in place of corrosion control treatment;
  • To address potential line disturbance after a lead service line replacement, partial lead service line replacement, or replacement of the water meter or gooseneck, pigtail, or connector, systems will provide a certified pitcher to remove lead for up to three months and conduct a follow-up test; and
  • Homes with lead service lines or unknown material will receive an annual letter from the system explaining its line replacement program and other options.

Through the agency’s review of the LCRR, the EPA held a series of public engagements from a variety of stakeholders spanning from groups, including states, tribes, water utilities, nonprofits, and underserved communities. Based on their findings, EPA found it necessary to support the mitigation of lead in drinking water and move forward with the implementation of the LCRR while considering opportunities to further revise the rule through regulatory and non-regulatory actions. The compliance date for the LCRR is set for October 16, 2024.

The EPA’s intention to propose further revisions to the rule through the Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI) will further strengthen the agency’s ability to provide safe drinking water. The agency’s review highlighted notable areas for further support, including:

  • Lead Service Line Replacement (LSLR): To meet the LCRR mandatory 3% replacement and replace all LSLs as quickly as feasible, the agency has expressed a need to support the full replacement of LSLs and discourage partial replacement
  • Re-evaluation of compliance sampling: The LCRR requires 1st and 5th liter sampling. Through the LCRI, the agency will further evaluate options for utilities to address lead contamination at lower levels and improve sampling methods.
  • Action & Trigger Level: Currently, the LCRR has an action level of 15 ppb and a trigger level of 10 ppb. To provide better health protection and more effective implementation of the rule, including whether to eliminate the trigger level and lower the action level.
  • Underserved Communities & Risk Communication: EPA will analyze and explore LSLR through an environmental justice perspective, while considering socioeconomic inequities and underserved communities. Including the promotion of technical assistance to small and disadvantaged communities and bolstering the awareness and availability of funding mechanisms.

PFAS Roadmap

In an effort to remediate and mitigate the harmful effects of PFAS on our environment and public health, EPA released a holistic governance approach.

In their PFAS Strategic Roadmap, the plan outlines the EPA’s commitment to action through 2024. This three-year multi-agency comprehensive strategy built on the investment of research, restriction of PFAS in the environment, and remediation technologies, will fundamentally alter the regulatory landscape around PFAS. To increase the understanding of the impacts of PFAS on human health and the environment, the agency intends to invest in research, development and innovation. In terms of restriction, the EPA aims to increase the regulatory landscape as it pertains to PFAS entering the environment through industrial and production means. This would include extending responsibility for limiting exposures as well as addressing the hazards of PFAS on manufacturers and producers. These actions are subsequently dependent on the remediation and cleanup of PFAS, which could potentially imply a reliance on POU/POE systems to help support the agency’s goals.

In reference to the regulatory landscape, EPA delineates a handful of rules and initiatives in addressing PFAS depicted below:

  • Regulating PFAS in drinking water by 2023 under the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWR).
  • Designation of PFOS and PFOA as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).
  • Rule under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) to require data reporting for manufacturers covering 1,350+ PFAS.
  • Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) 5 effective January 2023 requires the testing of 29 PFAS; EPA will prioritize additional PFAS in UCMR 6.
  • Preliminary Effluent Limitation Guidelines Program Plan 15 published, setting the stage for new rulemakings for PFAS discharges. Final ELG Plan 15 is projected in Fall 2022.

With a remarkable investment into our nation’s drinking water and notable advancements in the regulatory regime of the EPA, the water treatment and filtration industry is reaching the pinnacle in the importance of POU/POE systems. As these products are cost-effective and efficient in remediating lead, PFAS, and other contaminants, the current environment will support the industry to flourish. By providing safe drinking water for all, these low-cost options will prove to be a viable option for underserved communities and aid in addressing environmental justice issues, including lead service line replacement.


About the Author

Jordan Kari

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