By Jon Honeck, GOPC Senior Policy Fellow
Before leaving on its summer break, the Ohio General Assembly passed House Bill 512, a major reform to Ohio’s drinking water regulations that will tighten lead notification and testing requirements, tighten the requirements for lead-free plumbing fixtures, and provide more flexibility to the Ohio EPA and the Ohio Water Development Authority to support public drinking water and wastewater treatment infrastructure. The bill passed with strong bipartisan support in the wake of the well-publicized crises involving lead in drinking water supplies in Flint, MI, and Sebring, OH. The American Water Works Association estimates that there are 6.1 million lead service drinking water supply lines still in place across the nation, including many in Ohio. With proper corrosion control methods, many of the issues with lead pipes can be avoided, although the ultimate answer is to replace these lead lines over time. We hope that this same bipartisan spirit will carry forward into the fall and 2017 as the state grapples with important water infrastructure and water quality issues.
Under the bill, homeowners must be notified within two business days of lead laboratory test results received by a community water system. If the lab results show a lead level above the applicable threshold then the water system must provide information about the availability of health screening and lead blood level testing in the area to the homeowner and notify all customers that the system has exceeded acceptable lead levels within two business days, and provide information about lead testing to all customers within 5 business days. Within 18 months of the notification of about excessive lead levels, the system must submit a revised corrosion control treatment plan to the Ohio EPA. A revised corrosion control plan requirement is also triggered if a system changes sources of water supply, makes substantial changes to treatment, or operates outside the limits for certain metals or chemicals. Each water system is also required to map parts of its service area that are likely to contain lead lines.
Many Ohio cities are engaged in multi-year capital projects to fix combined sewer overflows and replacing aging water infrastructure. The Water Pollution Control Loan Fund, which is controlled by the Ohio EPA, provided over $700 million in revolving loans in 2015 for these purposes. The Fund receives an annual capitalization grant from the U.S. EPA so it can provide below-market interest rates to projects that are a high priority for the state and local partners. House Bill 512 broadened the scope of the WPCLF’s authority to match recent changes in federal law. New funding purposes include energy conservation and efficiency at wastewater treatment plants (which use enormous amounts of electric power), watershed management, recapture or treatment of stormwater, and decentralized sewer systems to assist smaller, more isolated rural areas. In addition, loan terms for the WPCLF are increased from 20 to 30 years, making them more affordable for borrowers. These changes make it easier to develop creative approaches to managing the water treatment system.
As Greater Ohio pointed out in Phase I of its ongoing infrastructure project, the state’s needs are vast and the financial capacity of many water utilities is stretched to its limit. We will make further policy recommendations on this point in 2016.