Safe Drinking Water

The Safe Drinking Water Research and Policy Program (SDWRPP) was launched in November of 2016 at the Northeast-Midwest Institute and builds on the Institute’s long-standing engagement in water quality research, policy analysis, and education and outreach relating to water quality and safe drinking water by expanding its capabilities to the region more broadly. With a multiphase approach, the program works toward solving imminent, critical issues regarding revision of the Lead and Copper Rule while also building a regional and national awareness of the need for solving drinking water issues. Through the development of scientific, non-partisan, and independent research and policy analysis, the program seeks to use objective data findings to inform and provide technical assistance and education to policy-makers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to support local and regional drinking water policy improvements.

The Safe Drinking Water Research and Policy Program will:

  • Develop science and policy research that addresses issues surrounding lead in drinking water to be presented to members of Congress and other regional decision-makers to improve drinking water policy.
  • Identify and compile critical information gaps, including appropriate water quality sampling, consumer education, and implementation issues to inform regulatory revisions and policy updates to increase public health protection under the Lead and Copper Rule and related legislation.
  • Develop and implement a program for minimizing lead in drinking water in Detroit, Michigan – under a contract with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department – that will inform policy recommendations for the entire region and, more specifically, proactively address lead in drinking water in large older cities.
  • Bring national awareness to safe drinking water needs as well as potential solutions, as part of a long-term strategy to address local and NEMW regional concerns.

In its first year, the SDWRPP is focusing on identifying and filling critical information gaps related to lead in drinking water, including appropriate water quality sampling, consumer education, and implementation issues. This work informs improved policy and regulation to increase public health protection in the Lead and Copper Rule and related legislation. The Northeast-Midwest Institute is building on this work to expand its relationships, connections, and recognition as it develops the Program longer-term to build a Safe Drinking Water Research and Policy Center that examines a more complete scope of drinking water issues.

Another research priority of the Safe Drinking Water Research and Policy Program is the development and implementation of a model program for minimizing lead in drinking water in Detroit, Michigan. This program, underway through a contract with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, informs policy recommendations for the entire region. Program Director, Elin Betanzo, is assessing the presence of lead in drinking water throughout the City of Detroit and developing short- and long-term strategies for minimizing exposure to lead through drinking water. These strategies include improving public notice and public education regarding lead in drinking water, updating and maintaining service line records, and designing a lead service line replacement program. While providing technical assistance to the City of Detroit, the Program is collecting information that informs more broadly policy and implementation needs to improve public health protection under the Lead and Copper Rule. The work in Detroit also provides a model for proactively addressing lead in drinking water in large older cities.

Research and policy analysis will include:

  • Targeted scientific and policy research papers examining ongoing technical and policy issues related to the Lead and Copper Rule such as appropriate water quality sampling, consumer education, funding and implementation issues.
  • Research to identify effective implementation strategies that improve the public health protection and enforceability of the revised Lead and Copper Rule.
  • Policy analysis in which regulations and legislation are examined and evaluated to identify their effectiveness for ensuring safe drinking water.
  • Research on treatment, sampling, recordkeeping, and public education strategies for minimizing exposure to lead in drinking water and improving standard procedures to proactively protect public health.

In the future, the Safe Drinking Water Research and Policy Program will expand its scope to address safe drinking water more broadly, and coupled with the engagement of a group of funders, will build a Safe Drinking Water Research and Policy Center. The Safe Drinking Water Research and Policy Program will approach safe drinking water policy as the essential foundation of an effective and sustainable integrated water resource management paradigm.


Recent Policy Analysis

Northeast-Midwest Institute Response to the U.S. EPA Lead and Copper Rule Revisions White Paper

Clarifications Needed to Strengthen the Lead and Copper Rule Working Recommendations for Long Term Revisions to the Federal Lead and Copper Rule


City of Detroit Work

Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Lead and Copper Testing and Resources

Searching for lead in Detroit’s water lines

Detroit tap water safe to drink, tests show


Media Coverage

Three Views of the Flint Water Crisis

Mona Hanna-Attisha: Unwavering voice for Flint’s children

Strength of New EPA Lead Rule Depends on Accountability

A long friendship put spotlight on Flint water crisis

Right time, right place

Elin Betanzo

Unsung Water Operator the First to Blow Whistle in Flint

Policy analyst: Early warnings ignored in Flint crisis

Expert says Michigan officials changed a Flint lead report to avoid federal action (Nov. 5, 2015)


Relevant Publications

Flint Water Advisory Task Force Final Review

Elevated Blood Lead Levels in Children Associated with the Flint Drinking Water Crisis: A Spatial Analysis of Risk and Public Health Response