Changes to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) requires water service providers to update their strategies for protecting the public, especially children and vulnerable populations from the harmful effects of lead in U.S. water supply systems. The revised LCR issued in January 2021, with a target effective date of Dec. 16, 2021, gives water utilities about three years to conduct an inventory of lead service lines (LSLs) so that each utility can know the scope of the problem, identify potential sampling locations and communicate with households and business owners that are or may be served by LSLs.

One of the major challenges for utilities is having an inventory of all the service lines in their networks and knowing what type of material those service lines are made of. As communities are growing, the water system is expanding rapidly and maintaining the record of service lines through traditional methods can be difficult and time-consuming. Manually collecting and storing this information would be tedious and could lead to quality control issues. Innovative technologies, such as geographic information systems (GIS) can be effective in providing a solution.

A strong GIS program can help utilities identify and keep a record of the lead and copper lines in the system and an actual location-based inventory of these service lines. A GIS database can store the inventory of the service lines, and if there are any gaps in the inventory and portions of the community where the locations and materials of service lines are not known, information can be collected through GIS-based mobile devices. Identifying where to start such data collection is another challenge. Using spatial analysis and historical records of when properties were built can help utilities pinpoint where they should focus and prioritize their efforts for the inventory.

A GIS system can be used to store the location of sampling sites so that routine inspections can be performed at the same sites.

A utility serving a community of more than 50,000 customers must make the results of the LSL inventory publicly available and searchable to help communicate with households that are or may be served by LSLs to inform them of the actions they may take to reduce their risks.

The EPA has estimated that the United States has about 6 million to 10 million lead and copper service lines. As the EPA has revised the LCR rule, water system owners are required to:

  • Increase testing in childcare centers and schools.
  • Use advanced methods to find sources of lead in drinking water.
  • All systems with LSLs must prepare a Lead Service Line Replacement Program by the compliance deadline of October 2024.

It is important for utilities to not wait for the final details, and instead adopt a proactive approach to meet the new regulations. Having a robust GIS program will help utilities comply with the LCR and provide safe and clean drinking water to their communities.


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Brian Hiller is a geospatial technologies director at 1898 & Co., part of Burns & McDonnell. He specializes in the implementation of GIS technology within utilities, including those providing water, wastewater, stormwater, electric and telecommunications services.