Insights and Ideas

Michigan’s New Lead and Copper Rule: Are You Making the Change?

Woman with glass of drinking water

It’s commonly known that lead and copper in our drinking water may cause health problems ranging from stomach distress to brain damage. At the national level, the EPA published its regulations for treatment in 1991.

The State of Michigan issued more stringent requirements as of June 14, 2018, and requires communities to prioritize the replacement of lead service lines. The rules represent the strictest lead action level in the country, making Michigan the only state to deviate from EPA standards. The new rule will eliminate all lead lines in the state over the next 20 years. 

You can see a full summary of the new Lead and Copper Rule requirements here. The major changes include:

  • Maintaining the lead action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) through December 31, 2024; the new lead action level of 12 ppb will take effect January 1, 2025
  • Mandating that preliminary service line inventories be completed by January 1, 2020; a final distribution system materials inventory must be submitted to MDEQ by January 1, 2025, with a comprehensive updated inventory due every five years thereafter
  • Requiring increased sampling
  • Requiring utilities to replace lead service lines (including those with only lead “goosenecks”—or short sections of flexible pipe that connect the water main to the lines leading to customers’ homes) when the 90th percentile shows 12 ppb lead
  • Requiring replacement of lines at a rate of 5% a year beginning in 2021 (bumped to 7% a year if 90% of test gauge above lead action level)
  • Banning partial replacements of lines, except for emergency repairs
  • Expanding water quality parameter sampling to include chloride and sulfate
  • Requiring water suppliers to pay for the inventory and replacement of lead service lines on private property
  • Increasing public communication and outreach requirements

Complying with the New Rules: Five Areas to Consider

Even before the new rules officially went into effect, some communities took the initiative to improve drinking water quality through the identification and removal of lead service lines. A small number of communities in Michigan received grant funds from the state to pilot implementing the changes required by the new Lead and Copper Rule, and OHM Advisors had the privilege of working closely with three of them.

Through these engagements, we are gaining hands-on experience with testing new innovations for sampling and construction, improving system safety, and managing the important public outreach components of the new rules. Specifically, we are assisting the grant communities with compliance in the following five areas:

1. Service line inventory and identification. The rules require communities to update their distribution system materials inventory and submit it to the state. Communities will have until January 1, 2020 to submit an initial inventory and five more years to verify it. The full lead service line must be replaced at water supply expense by 2041, regardless of ownership. These measures could become a major undertaking due to a lack of complete records and the need to include lines on private property.

2. Sampling procedures. The rules require sequential sampling within water systems to identify lead levels when first draw 90th percentile testing shows 12 ppb. Calculating the 90th percentile depends on the number of samples taken. For example, if you collect five samples, you would rank the results from lowest to highest and then average the two highest results to get the 90th percentile value. With 10 samples, ranked lowest to highest, the ninth highest value represents the 90th percentile. With 20 or more samples, multiply the number of samples by .9, and the resulting number is the value that is the 90th percentile. For example, 20 samples x .9 = 18, so the 18th highest value represents the 90th percentile.

Communities should review their current first-draw and sequential sampling procedures to help with identification of any high lead levels, as well as to verify if their corrosion control program is effective. OHM Advisors is currently partnering with three communities participating in the pilot program. Our experts offer innovative solutions in support of the testing requirements outlined in the new rules.

3. Asset management planning. Communities must incorporate lead service line replacement into their asset management plans, a task that requires assessment of lead service line conditions, consideration of funding, and coordination with other improvement projects. Each of these elements will factor into the prioritization and scheduling of service lines for replacement.

The new rules require communities to replace all lead service lines on an accelerated schedule. Even without the rules, these replacements should be part of a long-term asset management plan. Communities need to give some thought to the science behind the selection process and the best way to prioritize improvements to meet the needs of all stakeholders.

4. Bidding and construction. The actual process of replacing the lead service lines requires communities to work on private property. Communities will likely need to work with their attorneys to execute access and construction waivers to enter the property for the assessment, inventory, and construction.

Partnering with an engineering and planning firm that understands the nuances of working on private property can help expedite the process and allow communities to get ahead of any potential issues or roadblocks. A firm with the right expertise can be an invaluable partner in helping communities to communicate with their customers, design the engineering and notification documents, streamline the access and construction contract process, and provide coordination and oversight for the construction phase.

5. Community outreach and education. The Michigan LCR rule requires communities to up their game in terms of educating the public. With public awareness around water quality being high, particularly in Michigan, we can expect that many citizens will be engaged in the public process when it comes to LCR in their community. Mandated or not, public outreach must be a component to ensure project success—providing opportunity to educate consumers about the water system and how to reduce their potential health risks.

With 20 years to complete all lead service line replacements, giving careful consideration to how you will educate the public on not just the water system or the logic behind your decision-making, but the ways in which potential health risks can be decreased, will go a long way to ensuring the success of any program. Consistently focusing on health and safety is critical. Explaining why Oak Street’s lines are being replaced today and Main Street needs to wait until 2039 is part of the story.

Key Concerns with 2017-008 EQ and Pending Challenges

Since it was first proposed, the new rule has been met with some resistance. And challenges could still be forthcoming, especially related to the requirements to replace sections of pipeline on private property, which could lead to legal and financial complications.

To summarize, the major concerns with the rule include the high cost (an estimated $2.5 billion to replace lead service lines across the state), the legality (the rules could violate existing rulings, amendments, and ordinances), and the effectiveness (lead in drinking water is just one of several potential sources of lead poisoning).

What’s Next?

As always, our number one goal at OHM Advisors is to advance your community, and ensuring the safety of drinking water is clearly a top priority. OHM Advisors is committed to staying on top of the status of Michigan’s new LCR. We will provide regular updates as they become available.

We understand that the new Michigan LCR poses a challenge our communities have never faced before and requires communities to put significant effort into inventorying and replacing service lines, maintaining ongoing sampling, making replacements on private property, and creating and maintaining effective communication with their citizens.

We can help you take a holistic approach to your community’s drinking water quality challenges—one that combines strong technical expertise with community engagement know-how—to do the right thing for your community and successfully tackle major initiatives like LCR.

You can learn more about the Lead and Copper Rule on the MDEQ website, or contact OHM Advisors to talk to our water resources, engineering, and planning professionals about starting your plan today.