Log in Newsletter

Fayetteville PWC working to comply with new lead, copper regulations

'Our water is safe to drink,' water resources engineer tells commissioners


Fayetteville Public Works Commission officials say the public utility is in compliance with stricter government rules on lead and copper levels in drinking water.

PWC has begun work to ensure its compliance with the new rules by October 2024, utility officials told the board this week. PWC employees and contractors are documenting the content of water laterals, the network of pipes that connect main water lines to piping in an individual home or business.

John Allen, a PWC water resources engineer who spoke at a commission meeting on Wednesday, said the project is focused on day care centers and elementary schools because of the threat lead can pose to young children.

Health concerns prompted regulators to ban lead piping in 1987, and known lead lines installed before then have been replaced over the years. PWC needs to document the content of nearly 100,000 water laterals in its system, officials said.

Based on records and employees’ knowledge of the system, PWC anticipates “minimal instances of lead service lines.”

But all PWC pipes will be researched, officials said. Employees and contractors will do site surveys when the content of pipes cannot be confirmed as safe.

“Based on what we know, it’s very unlikely that we installed lead piping as part of the service line,” said Allen.

“Based on some knowledge we have talking to some of the older retirees, PWC installed galvanized piping from the main to the meter prior to the 1960s,” Allen said. “From the mid-1960s through about 2007, we installed black plastic — polystyrene piping. And then since 2007, we have installed copper from the main to the meter.”

Piping from the meter to a house or business generally conformed to the plumbing code in effect when it was installed, Allen said.

“So, again, it can be a variety of materials, as well — galvanized copper, plastic, PVC; whatever the plumbing code required,” he said.

PWC owns the service line from the property line to the water main or from the sidewalk to the meter, Allen said. Lines from the meter to the house are the responsibility of the property owner.

PWC’s network does have some lead “goosenecks,” the connection between the service line and the main line, he said.

In 1995, use of lead goosenecks was discontinued because of reports of pipes rupturing. The utility switched to gooseneck connections made of copper or more dependable types of plastic pipe.

Overall, the goal of the new guidelines is to reduce the lead and copper levels in drinking water.

“We have to worry about every customer,” said PWC.

PWC Chairwoman Evelyn Shaw noted that a lot of homes in the city were built in the early 1980s, and the owners of those houses would want to know if lead pipes were used.

In his presentation, Allen reviewed the history of lead regulations.

“One of the questions is, how does lead get into our drinking water?” he asked. “Pretty much the answer is, it’s the reaction between the drinking water and the pipe materials. … If there’s a lining or anything in the pipes, … the lead can leach out into the drinking water.”

The pipes themselves can be a common source of lead, but it also can be in fixtures and faucets, particularly those made before 2011, Allen said.

In older homes with copper piping, solder that contains lead was used to join the copper fittings.

Allen said lead pipes were more commonly used in older cities in the Northeast and Midwest, including Boston, New York and Chicago.

According to PWC, the latest rules on lead and copper pipes set lower levels that trigger corrective action by utilities; revise sampling protocols; and require utilities to provide the public information on the types of materials throughout a water system.

“We are in compliance with that rule,” Allen said. “Our water is safe to drink. It's clear. The biggest change is we have to document this. But 99% of the time, (PWC pipes) don't have lead. We have been very proactive.”

PWC said it has conformed to the lead and copper sampling program since 1991, and it has implemented a corrosion-control program to prevent lead from pipes and fixtures from getting into the water system. PWC’s water samples have been well below the thresholds for lead in drinking water set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, PWC said.

By 2024, the utility says, it will provide customers with a public resource for identifying properties with lead lines pipes or plumbing.

Allen said if PWC fails to comply with the new rules, it could be fined by the state.

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

Fayetteville, PWC, lead, copper, drinking water