OneWater Reflections Apr 6, 2023

Integrating Equity into Lead Service Line Replacements

By Jennifer Liggett, Global Principal for Drinking Water Quality

OneWater Reflections

As the U.S. braces itself for years or decades of lead service line replacements, it’s important to take stock of why these replacements are important and who is the most impacted.

The use of lead service lines (LSLs) to supply drinking water dates back thousands of years – from the time of the ancient Romans – and installation continued until the late 1980s in the U.S. As required under the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions, public water systems are now undertaking the important work of identifying LSLs across the U.S. with the ultimate goal of removing them all. Lead is a neurotoxin and has adverse health impacts not only to children but also pregnant women and adults with underlying health issues. There is no safe level of lead exposure for anyone.

Due to the federal ban in the late 1980s, LSLs are more commonly found in older homes that may also have lead paint. It is common for many communities to have individuals who are disproportionately impacted by lead residing in older developments throughout the community. Often, these individuals do not have access to the same resources as others in the community. It is essential to recognize these disparate impacts and barriers when developing, planning and implementing LSL replacement programs so that community members benefit equitably, regardless of income, race or ethnicity.

To help communities navigate these equity considerations, the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative recently developed a step-by-step Guide to Equity Analysis that is freely and publicly available online. The guide provides questions and resources communities can use to help enhance the equity of their LSL replacements, like overlaying their LSL inventories with data related to demographics, economic status or development patterns to identify households or neighborhoods that could benefit from expedited action or funding support.

I’m honored to have been one of the members who developed this guide because the importance of equity considerations in LSL replacement programs cannot be overstated. At Jacobs, we’re supporting communities across the U.S. with their Lead and Copper Rule compliance programs and we’re helping them to place equity considerations front and center. For example, we’re supporting Salt Lake City Public Utilities Commission with a program that prioritizes early action in disadvantaged communities.

The hard work to identify and replace every LSL in the U.S. is now under way and we all have a role to play. Collaboration will be the key to realizing equitable solutions that eliminate lead exposure and protect the health of everyone in our communities.

About the author

Jennifer Liggett

Jennifer Liggett is Jacobs Global Principal for Drinking Water Quality based in Denver, Colorado. Jennifer has over 14 years of research and consulting experience with distribution system water quality topics such as regulatory compliance, corrosion control studies and nitrification and legionella prevention plans. She is a subject matter expert in the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions.