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Tulsa Utility Officials Watching EPA for Lead Pipe Rule

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The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed updated rules to accelerate the replacement of lead pipes in city water systems, and City of Tulsa utility officials are wondering how they’ll comply if they’re adopted.

The EPA’s proposal would require a system inventory within three years of the rules being finalized. With current staffing, surveying Tulsa’s 160,000 connections is projected to take 41 years.

The rules are not clear on whether the inventory can be built on administrative records, which the city has been doing.

"But it’s also not been very accurate. We’ve searched our work order system for locations of lead service lines, and we don’t have a comprehensive materials inventory," Utility Systems Operations Manager Melissa Gray told the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority last month.

To get survey work done within three years, the city would need around 28 more utility workers, roughly the number of current vacancies.

The EPA rule would also require a replacement plan. The city is considering a residential abatement program to let home owners spread the roughly $5,000 replacement cost of a lead service connection over six years. Gray said there hasn’t been a need for that so far.

"We’ve identified – or, surveyed around 360 lead services in Tulsa, have only found four, but those four lead service lines have been on the city side only. We haven’t found any on the home owner’s side as of yet," Gray said.

The city is surveying homes in a phased approach, starting with the oldest construction first.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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