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Build or Buy? Service Line Inventory Options to Consider

February 7, 2023
Min Read
Woman across the table from 2 men talking

Rome wasn’t built in a day – that adage has stood the test of time and perfectly describes what it might take to develop a service line inventory. This blog post focuses on one main argument: should you build or buy a system to house your service line inventory data?

Here’s the deal. Every water utility is different. You have different staffing resources with different capabilities. You might have different tools available or funding options to purchase new tools. Community involvement regarding water quality might also look different with some communities having more vocal and engaged stakeholders than others. And of course, the age, layout, and type of infrastructures vary across the United States. So, before we get into the different options, remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Quick summary of why the need for a service line inventory

If you haven’t heard by now, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced new regulations through the Lead and Copper Rule Revision (LCRR) for materials inventory, lead service line (LSL) replacement programs, compliance sampling, school and day care sampling, corrosion control treatment, and public education and outreach.  

These regulations require all water utilities — regardless of their size (with some minor differences for smaller utilities) — to submit a service line materials inventory of both sides of the line (utility and privately-owned), including residential and commercial lines. Let’s take a look at what the LCRR-compliant inventory should look like.

Countdown to LCRR Deadline

What a service line inventory system must include to comply with LCRR

LCRR mandates developing a materials inventory that specifies material classification into four categories (lead, galvanized requiring replacement, non-lead, or lead status unknown), details about all service lines and ownership (e.g., location), along with information to identify the service line material or verify its classification.  

A few other things to look out for:

  • All service lines including those used for non-potable reasons such as fire suppression or those in vacant or abandoned buildings should be part of the inventory (EPA’s Guidance for Developing and Maintaining a Service Line Inventory)
  • Exact street addresses are not required for public-facing inventories to be sensitive to local or state privacy laws; However, the EPA highly recommends “the greatest transparency” as possible and to include additional descriptors when multiple lines serve the same location; And utilities will still have to develop a private inventory with exact address details for the EPA
  • Smaller water systems serving less than 10,000 people still must develop a service line inventory that’s accessible to ratepayers upon request and if lead exists, meet several other compliance requirements, such as submitting recommendations on how they plan to achieve compliance

Here’s a nice summary of requirements and recommendations from the EPA guidance report (pg. 2-12).

EPA Requirements and Recommendations for Service Line Inventory Development

The four different types of inventory systems

Service line inventories come in all shapes and sizes, but we narrowed down four options water utilities should consider based on key criteria needed to support compliance with the LCRR, including:

  • A searchable database – to comply with location requirements
  • Public access – to support transparency requirements
  • Real-time dashboard – to provide up-to-date insights
  • Two-way communications – to keep stakeholders engaged
  • Lead-pipe predictions – to optimize resources as much as possible

Based on these criteria, the four possible options for inventory systems are as follows.

Building GIS-based inventory

A GIS-based inventory system relies on using an in-house GIS system and making configurations to comply with the LCRR. We have seen configuration take about 3-6 months, depending on resources.  

Building an Excel-based inventory

An Excel-based inventory system relies on using a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel to build, track, and maintain an LCRR-compliant inventory. It could take several months to configure a spreadsheet to meet LCRR requirements, depending on how savvy your staff is with formulas, how often data gets added, and of course, how many resources you have available. Yet, this still might not be enough to meet all the LCRR requirements, such as having a publicly-accessible version of the inventory.

Building a combined GIS and Excel inventory, with add-ons

Combining your GIS with an Excel spreadsheet might be one way to meet LCRR compliance. A few add-ons such as a separate sampling platform or using software exclusively made to use machine learning for lead pipe predictions might be enough to get you through the initial LCRR compliance deadline. Based on past projects, Trinnex® team members and our parent company, CDM Smith, have worked on, we’ve seen this type of inventory system take upwards of 1,000 man hours or at least eight months to complete.  

Buying an all-in-one unified solution with all the required components  

Buying an all-in-one software solution combines all the options into one and adds a few additional features:

  • Inventory dashboard
  • Verification workflow
  • Field verification
  • Customer self-reporting
  • Machine learning
  • Replacement dashboard
  • Drop-ship sampling
  • Public education and outreach

We discuss some more details in this blog post about evaluating Lead & Copper Rule management software.

Build or Buy: How to evaluate all your service line inventory options

We know it’s not easy deciding on your inventory system. That’s why we put together this Buyer’s Guide to help you wade through all your options. In this guide, you will find:

  • More details on the four options we presented here
  • A level of effort assessment to help you understand whether you should build your own inventory or buy software
  • A downloadable scoring matrix to help you compare against different vendors

Want to get hands-on help in evaluating your options? Feel free to reach out to our team of LCRR experts who have done it all — configured GIS solutions, built custom systems, added on sampling systems — and can walk you through how software like leadCAST® can help streamline the entire LCRR compliance process. We also have a live demo that you can join to learn more about leadCAST.

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Written by
Andrea Lebron
Marketing Professional
Andrea is Trinnex’s demand generation marketer with a passion for writing about technology and digital-first resiliency.

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