Getting Ahead of Lead

Did you know that Boston, Massachusetts became home to the nation’s first gravity-fed water distribution system in 1652? The system was constructed from bored-out hemlock and elm logs and attached together with pitch, tar, or iron hoops. Mainly constructed for firefighting, a natural byproduct of distributed water was its use as a source of drinking water.

Through the years, as the population and demand for clean drinking water grew, the materials of the pipe that conveyed the drinking water evolved. The first cast iron pipes installed in the United States (U.S.) in Philadelphia in 1810, because of its longevity and ability to withstand higher water pressure, were installed throughout the city. Later, other major cities would follow Philadelphia’s lead. By 1900, Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Saint Louise all used lead services to varying degrees to convey drinking water to homes and businesses. In the early 20th century, many communities began to recognize the health effects of lead exposure, however the use of lead in plumbing components continued through the mid-1980’s. The U.S. banned the use of lead pipes in plumbing systems 1986, however they remain throughout much of the country’s drinking water infrastructure. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the U.S. drinking water infrastructure system is made up of 2.2 million miles of underground pipes. Roughly 87% of the U.S. population receives water for household use from “public water systems” – defined as those serving on average at least 25 people for at least 60 days per year. A 2016 survey conducted by the American Water Works Association indicated that the total number of lead services in the U.S. was upwards of six million, and that 15 to 22 million people have either a full or partial lead‐containing service lines serving their home.

In January of 2021, Executive Order 13990 was established revising Lead and Copper Rule: “Water systems cannot unilaterally implement all of the actions that are needed to reduce levels of lead in drinking water. Homeowners must also be engaged to assure successful LSL replacement because, in most communities, a portion of the LSL is owned by the water system and the remaining portion is the property of the homeowner. Water systems must also engage with consumers to encourage actions such as flushing of taps before use to reduce their exposure to lead in drinking water, where necessary. The ability of water systems to successfully engage with consumers is critical to reducing drinking water lead exposure.

The diversity of water distribution systems and their varying degrees of upkeep means there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach to identifying and removing lead. Similarly, the diversity of each community requires a unique approach to communications regarding sensitive water quality issues. Trust and transparency are just as critical as the quality of water and the consistency of their service to a public water supplier. One of the ways that you can build trust is by showing the public that you care for them, and how your team is working to provide them with the safest most reliable necessity to life – water. Public water suppliers can do this by educating consumers, and providing consistent and transparent communications.

At Capital Strategic Solutions, we understand that varying degrees of resources and dedicated public information staff can make it difficult to engage with consumers and target audiences, so we are here to assist in your efforts to communicate about the value and importance of water. Our team has over a decade of experience implementing public outreach/education strategies for municipalities all across the Commonwealth. We also offer a full variety of grant writing and technical assistance services customized to the needs of our clients. By crafting compelling applications and identifying ways to scale effective programs CSS can help you obtain grant funding which will assist in replacing lead pipes or other infrastructure improvements. Some of our expertise includes:

  • Strategic & Crisis Communications

  • Social Media Engagement

  • Assisting with Grant Funding Opportunities

  • Website Development

  • Public Engagement Plans and Coordination

  • Presentations

  • Videos, Fact Sheets, & Newsletters

  • Stakeholder Database Development

  • Project Branding

Finding the right means to reach customers and deciding what to say may seem like a challenge, but ratepayers who understand and care about their drinking water supply are more likely to support the utility’s source water protection efforts. Successfully communicate with the public you serve! Contact us at or call 508-690-0046.

13 views0 comments