GAO Report on EPA Oversight of the LCR

At the request of Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is examining the issue of elevated lead in drinking water.  As one outcome from this process, GAO has just  issued a report on EPA’s oversight of Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) implementation.  One issue highlighted in the report is state reporting of LCR data, especially lead service lines, compliance status, and milestones.  The SDWIS/Fed database does not contain any information on lead service lines, and sample results for lead are incomplete.  Under reporting of drinking water data has been noted in other GAO reports, and previous recommendations to EPA have not been totally implemented.  Without complete information on lead, EPA cannot perform the proper oversight role for the LCR.
The report also cites information from interviews with states and EPA regions about factors that may contribute to LCR noncompliance.  Using the insights gathered during their analysis and interviews, the GAO identified a few key factors that may contribute to noncompliance with the LCR.  Models developed by GAO based on these factors could predict the likelihood of LCR violations.  This targeted approach cannot be implemented currently because the SDWIS/Fed data are incomplete and some key data. such as the presence of lead service lines, are not reported.  GAO’s recommendations to EPA will help them conduct a risk based analysis and better target their oversight of water systems under the rule.  The upcoming revisions to the  LCR provide a great opportunity to make the changes necessary to support the GAO recommendations. Here is a summary of what GAO recommends:

  1. Require states to report available information on lead pipes.
  2. Require states to report 90th percentile lead results for all systems.
  3. EPA should develop a statistical analysis that incorporates multiple factors to identify systems with a higher likelihood of violating the LCR.

In their response, EPA generally agreed that improved data will help oversight.  EPA pointed out that they have developed the Compliance Monitoring Data Portal to facilitate electronic reporting and are developing SDWIS Prime.  These should improve the quality of SDWIS/Fed data.  They will consider the first two GAO recommendations (along with suggestions from other stakeholders) as they develop the revisions to the LCR.  They also agreed that the concept of the statistical tool to help target oversight is useful, but pointed out that building the tool will be challenging.