State accepting applications for lead mitigation projects in public water supplies

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality is seeking projects related to updating or mitigating lead service lines in public water supplies.

“Updating or mitigating lead service lines can be costly, that’s why DEQ wants to maximize federal funding and get dollars into our Montana communities,”  Lindsey Krywaruchka, DEQ’s water quality division administrator, said in a release.

The state of Montana could receive up to $28 million in funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for lead service lines.

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

Funding will be available via loans and loan forgiveness. In order to receive the funding, DEQ must have a list of projects that relate to preparing a service line inventory, planning for replacement or mitigation, or replacement activities. Projects do not need to be “shovel ready” or approved but should include estimates on the project scope and costs.

“Finding and replacing lead service lines in Montana is important to protecting public health and reducing the risk of exposure to lead in drinking water,” EPA Region 8 Water Division Director Darcy O’Connor, said in a release. “Using funding available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Montana will be able to significantly enhance efforts to deliver clean drinking water to communities across the state.”

The funding opportunity applies to all community public water systems such as cities, towns, subdivisions and trailer parks—as well as schools and businesses that serve the same 25 people for at least six months.

City beginning water pipe inventory to comply with new EPA rules

The federal government is requiring applicable public water supplies complete an inventory of lead service lines. Exposure to lead in drinking water can occur through lead pipes and there is no safe level of lead. The amount of lead service lines in the State of Montana is not fully known. Public water supplies must complete their inventory by October 2024.

While the inventory is required, applying for funding is not a requirement. If public water supplies would like to apply for project funding, they must submit a project form by Nov. 30, 2022.

The City of Great Falls is currently preparing for these new federal regulations pertaining to lead levels in public drinking water.

According to the Great Falls public works department, staff is asking DEQ for clarification on whether the city can apply for the loan and then provide funds to property owners that replace their lead water service line.

“Our understanding is that this money is a loan not a grant. This loan is intended for cities that own the portion of the service line from the main to the curb stop. So if we do apply for any of the money, we will need to determine if the city is going to require the property owner to reimburse the city,” according to an email from city staff.

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 prepping for new EPA rules on lead in public water systems

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.

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.

For more information and to submit a project form, visit the DEQ website.