EPA Approves Final SDWA Variance for Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program Plan

US EPA has approved Denver Water’s comprehensive approach for reducing lead in drinking water through the issuance of a final variance under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The variance allows Denver Water to continue to implement a set of actions, called the Lead Reduction Program Plan (LRPP), which work together to reduce lead in Denver’s drinking water.  Denver Water is also receiving $76 million in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to accelerate the pace of the lead service line replacement actions specified in the plan. In 2012 Denver Water exceeded the lead action level and was required to complete a corrosion control treatment study. As a result of the study, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment modified Denver Water’s designation of optimal corrosion control treatment (OCCT), requiring Denver Water to install and operate orthophosphate as OCCT by 2020, in accordance with the Lead and Copper Rule. In September 2019, Denver Water submitted a request for a variance from the OCCT requirements in the LCR and instead implement a suite of actions under its LRPP, including:

  • Developing a LSL inventory to identify and track lead service line replacements (LSLRs);
  • Initiating a lead removal filter program for homes with LSLs and certain homes with copper pipe with lead solder;
  • Conducting an accelerated LSLR program to replace all LSLs in 15 years;
  • Operating increased pH/alkalinity adjustment as corrosion control treatment for all customers; and
  • Implementing a communications, outreach, and education plan.

Under SDWA Section 1415(a)(3), a variance may be approved by EPA if an alternative treatment technique is at least as efficient in lowering the contaminant in question and is implemented by the water system; in granting this variance, EPA has concluded that the steps Denver Water is taking under the LRPP are equally as efficient in lowering the levels of lead in drinking water as the application of orthophosphate as OCCT. EPA approved this variance in 2019–the first ever lead-related SDWA variance. After evaluating data from Denver Water’s LLRP, EPA is approving another variance allowing Denver Water to continue with the current plan, indicating that Denver’s plan has been as effective as the application of orthophosphate for reducing lead in drinking water. Although not a part of the variance decision, approval of the variance also has the added benefit of not adding to the levels of phosphorous loading to Denver’s wastewater. “Local, state and federal partners collaborated to develop and implement this innovative approach, which has proven to be a success for public health, environmental protection and environmental justice over the last three years,” said Ron Falco, Safe Drinking Water Program Manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is excited to continue overseeing this great work.”

View EPA’s Press Release here.

Learn more about EPA’s Variance Approval.

Learn more about Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program.