Skip to main content

Fast Five with Eric Oswald director of EGLEs Drinking Water & Environmental Health Division

Today’s Fast Five edition of MI Environment talks with Eric Oswald, director of EGLE’s Drinking Water & Environmental Health Division (DWEHD), about his career and how changes to EGLE’s approach to regulating drinking water are yielding the desired results.

Eric Oswald Headshot

Eric Oswald, director of EGLE's Drinking Water & Environmental Health Division.


What was your background prior joining EGLE?

I served in the U.S. Air Force for over 28 years as a civil engineer responsible for maintaining critical infrastructure and environmental compliance. I earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology. I came to EGLE in 2017 as the director of DWEHD.

What motivated you to join EGLE and lead the state’s Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division in 2017?

I wanted to continue to serve the people of the state. I had been following the events in Flint, and members of my unit supported response efforts in the community. I wanted to be part of the change and response to the issues highlighted in Flint.

What organizational changes did you make to Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division?

We stood up a central Lead and Copper Unit (LCU), we revised the State’s lead and copper rule (LCR), making it the strictest in the nation, requiring the removal of lead service lines (LSL), refining the definition of LSL, requiring a Complete Distribution System Material Inventory (CDSMI), strengthening the sampling methodology, and outlawing partial service line replacements. We took a close look at policies and procedures and stood up a peer review team, engineering unit and conducted a comprehensive review of our sanitary survey process and staffing requirements.

Are these changes to EGLE’s approach to regulating drinking water yielding the desired results?

They are! We have discovered that the new LCR sampling methodology uncovered additional exposure risk that we would not have found otherwise, and that has led to changes in drinking water treatment. The Environmental Protection Agency has adopted the same sampling methodology in their new Lead and Copper Rule Improvements. The centralization of LCR oversight has led to more consistency and better regulation of our water supplies as well. 

What are the next challenges you’ll be dealing with around protecting Michigander’s drinking water?

There are always challenges around protecting drinking water. We have new contaminants of concern that we need to investigate, similar to PFAS. We have systems that are struggling with technical, financial and managerial capacity that need technical support and solutions to better protect their customers while keeping water rates under control. A potential solution is cooperation and sharing of resources across water supplies – a process we call regionalization. Smaller systems are having a difficult time keeping up with the more advanced treatment that is required to address contaminants like PFAS. Aging and failing infrastructure will continue to be a challenge. We have seen large increases in federal and state funding to address some of these challenges but will need to continue to properly fund the operation and maintenance of this critical infrastructure. Cyber security is a relatively new challenge as we have seen more attempts to hack into our drinking water control systems: we need to be ready to prevent that type of attack.