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Fire hydrants excluded from new drinking water law

Water authorities and municipalities facing a stiff federal mandate to use reduced-lead fire hydrants beginning next month have gotten a break.

Under bipartisan legislation co-authored by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) and passed Tuesday night by the Senate, fire hydrants on Long Island and nationwide are now exempt from the new Environmental Protection Agency law that begins Jan. 4 and aims to make the nation's drinking water safer from lead.

"This will come to the rescue and save local governments, municipalities and taxpayers tens of millions of dollars across the country and millions of dollars across New York State," Schumer said Wednesday.

The House passed a companion bill last week and Schumer said he expects President Barack Obama to sign the measure into law before year's end.

The new rules had been outlined in October in an EPA interpretation of the Congress-authored Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act of 2011, which Schumer called "admirable."

But earlier this month Schu-mer had complained that hydrants were not exempt from the law, something that would force water districts installing new hydrants to needlessly junk their replacement stock and spend millions to replace it. In Suffolk he said the savings will be about $450,000. Exact numbers for Nassau were not available, but the number is similar.

Schumer had called on the EPA to issue a waiver for existing fire hydrants, and to pass new rules that exempt fire hydrants altogether. But he said the EPA was "laggard."

Long Island Water Conference chairman Michael Boufis said the new law offers good news.

"We won't have to dispose of inventory," Boufis said.

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