- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is asking the state’s drinking water systems to give customers better and quicker information to help them protect against lead exposure.

The actions come in response to pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has asked state drinking water regulators to help restore public confidence after the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

The DNR plans to soon send a letter asking the state’s 11 biggest water systems to post online an inventory of the homes that likely have lead-service lines in their communities. Those lines, typically in homes built before 1950, can leak lead into the drinking water when they corrode.

Knowing whether such lines are present allows homeowners to replace lines if they can afford the roughly $3,000 cost or take other steps to limit lead exposure, such as using water filters or running taps for 30 seconds before drinking from them.

Iowa’s largest water systems have not exceeded the federal standard for lead in recent years. Still, many old homes are in cities such as Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Davenport, where lead can pose a risk even when elevated levels haven’t shown up in samples taken elsewhere.

The DNR will also encourage systems to inform customers of elevated lead levels faster than required by federal rule, which mandates that homeowners be notified within 30 days of such samples at their properties and all customers to be notified within 60 days of a systemwide problem. While DNR cannot mandate faster notification, the agency will urge suppliers to do so in the public interest. Critics say those timelines are too long.

To help expedite the notification process, the agency is planning a rule change requiring laboratories to notify DNR within 24 hours of elevated lead samples instead of the week or more currently allowed.

“It’s entering into that realm of being a more urgent concern than it has in the past,” said DNR executive officer Diane Moles, who helps oversee the state’s drinking water program. “Immediate notification creates a lot more effort on the part of everybody to get it done.”

Des Moines Water Works, which serves 500,000 customers in central Iowa and is the state’s largest system, has already posted its inventory of neighborhoods with the highest potential for having lead-service lines. The agency, which estimates 12,000 such lines in its territory, announced a change last month allowing at-risk property owners to have home taps tested for lead for free, spokeswoman Laura Sarcone said. Others can be tested for an $18 fee.

Water systems were required in the early 1990s to create an inventory of lead-service lines when the federal lead rule went into effect, but it’s not clear how well they have been maintained.

“We’ll have a renewed effort to focus on this to make sure they have the latest, greatest inventory,” said Corey McCoid, a DNR water supply operations supervisor.

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