City developing plans for new federal rules on lead in drinking water

The city is preparing for new federal regulations pertaining to lead levels in public drinking water that are set to go into effect October 2024.

The rules will lower the amount of detectable lead in the water that triggers treatment actions and data reporting, with the potential for significant cost to the City of Great Falls.

The new rules are from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and city officials said the revision for stricter compliance was triggered by the 2014 Flint, Mich. water crisis in which public water supplies were contaminated with lead.

Paul Skubinna, former city public works director, discussed the new rules with City Commissioners during their March 1 work session and Mark Juras, a senior civil engineer in public works, updated commissioners on their progress during the Sept. 20 work session.

City beginning water pipe inventory to comply with new EPA rules

City staff are developing a lead service line inventory and staff has started that process with available data.

Under the new rules, the inventory will have to show what water service lines are not known as lead, those that are known as lead and those that are unknown.

The city has been using historical records to identify as many service line materials as possible, and sent 10,000 letters to property owners who might have non-copper service lines in July asking them to do identification tests of their pipes.

About 1,500 forms have been returned, Juras said.

City prepping for new EPA rules on lead in public water systems

As of September 2022, the city has identified about 12,800 service lines that are non-lead, or about 58.3 percent. Another 110 lines, or 0.5 percent have been identified as lead, another 250, or 1.1 percent, as galvanized.

But there’s about 8,800, or 40.1 percent of the service lines in the city that are currently unknown, under the rules from the EPA and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

The current rules trigger actions at lead levels above 15 parts per billion and the new rule would trigger action at 10 parts per billion.

GFPS working to replace, fix faucets, sinks where lead detected under new state rule

The new rules require lead pipes to be replaced and city officials said that’s going to be a community conversation about who will bear that cost.

The city has to identify the lead, galvanized and unknown lines and has to provide online access to the public of their locations.

Under the new rules, the city will also have to do tap line sampling at homes with known lead service lines and have to test at the fifth liter, which targets water that’s been stagnant in the service line, Juras said.

That part of the rule will be in place in late 2024 or early 2025, Juras said, and the results will determine the city’s action levels in terms of more sampling, monitoring or replacing the pipes.

The idea is to reduce lead in drinking water, according to the EPA and city officials, but there could be a significant cost to the city, particularly if the changes impact the city’s water treatment plant.

The federal infrastructure bill allocated $15 billion toward implementation of the new rules and of that Montana is slated to get about $140 million, but city officials said they didn’t know yet how those funds would be dispersed.