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Water Today Title June 29, 2022

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Lead Pipes


This story is brought to you in part by Energy Systems & Designs

by Cori Marshall

The Flint Michigan Water Crisis put lead in drinking water and its effects on our collective radar in 2014. More than 100 thousand people may have been exposed to high levels of lead. Residents to this day are using bottled and filtered water for their daily needs, and have been told to do so until all fixtures that contain lead are replaced which is not expected before 2020.

What does the water infrastructure look like in Canada, how many municipalities and homes are still supplied with water through lead fixtures? More importantly what are governments at all three levels doing to ensure that Canadians are not supplied by service lines containing lead?

In September of last year Liberal MP for Hamilton East - Stoney Creek, Bob Bratina introduced a Private Members Motion that would potentially see the federal government play a role in aiding municipalities and homes deal with how lead fixtures affect the quality of their water.

The amended text of the motion (M-69) was adopted on February 2, 2017, and urges the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure, and Communities (TRAN) to "undertake a study on the presence of lead in Canadian tap water." The study is to include the efforts municipalities and provinces have made in replacing lead fixtures in their distribution lines. We spoke with Bob Bratina about the motion.

Bratina states that the inspiration for the motion comes from "new information on the seriousness of lead, continuing occurrences in cities across Canada, and governments that turn down useful programs." Bratina suggests that there is a lack of knowledge surrounding the issue. Bratina felt that "the federal government could bring to bear a clearinghouse of best practices."

The MP wants to "bring the matter before the infrastructure committee to assess all the current information and see what role the federal government could play in assisting municipalities in dealing with the problem."

Bratina has had past experience in dealing with lead in water service lines in his time on City Council and as Mayor of Hamilton. He said that around 2007 the city "found that [it] had lead exceedances which surprised public works." The city began helping residents remove lead pipes and fixtures on private property and went as far as conducting a blood-lead survey of children in older parts of Hamilton.

Bratina added that the city of Hamilton is "about to announce federal infrastructure money for a new plant that will almost eliminate completely the lead in the drinking water." The city also put in place a loan system to help residents offset the costs of replacing lead pipes which can range between $1500 to $2000. The loan will payback over ten years on the water bill.

TRAN met earlier today to focus on this issue for the first time. Bratina was in attendance, and going into to the meeting the MP would like to see the federal government avoid a situation similar to Flint that resulted in a $700 million-dollar lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Bratina is concerned that "[TRAN] will hear testimony and decide that it is not anybody's problem except the municipality."

The TRAN meeting number 63 on Water Quality brought before it witnesses from the Department of Health and Office of Infrastructure of Canada.

Office of Infrastructure of Canada's Acting Assistant Deputy Minister for Policy, Alain Desruisseaux, gave testimony stating "under most of Infrastructure Canada's programs, drinking water infrastructure including replacing and or upgrading publicly owned drinking water transmission pipes has been an eligible category of investment." The Canadian government allocated $2 billion clean water and wastewater fund in the 2016 budget.

During his testimony, Desruisseaux touched on the $9.2 billion for municipalities, provinces and territories that will be in part for "delivering clean water." He added the government "will provide $4 billion from the Green and Social Funding stream for infrastructure in Indigenous in indigenous communities."

Most of the important infrastructure in the country "is owned by the provinces, territories and municipalities, and each level of government has its respective role to play when it comes to the protection of water in Canada."

Véronique Morrisset, Water Quality Program Division Department of Health, said that the federal government and municipalities have established a "$50 million asset management program, [and] municipalities have access to funding to help them develop their asset management plans, also a lot of capacity building," and training. This is aimed at municipalities being more capable of managing assets such as water and wastewater infrastructure.

A very important points to take away from this meeting is that the demand for water infrastructure project funding far outweighs the amount of funding available. Monies in the Infrastructure Bank are for projects that require $100 thousand or more, putting yet another barrier on projects for smaller water systems.

What are Canadian cities actually doing to address lead in their water supply lines?

Nick Winters, Acting Director of Water and Wastewater Operations in Hamilton, said that the city "estimates 15,000 to 20,000 lead water services that supply residential dwellings." The city is able to replace approximately 600 annually for "$1.8 million plus an additional $1.2 million," for road repair. At the current rate, it will take the city "25 to 35 years to replace all of the lead in water services."

Winters added that Hamilton "is implementing the addition of orthophosphate to the drinking water for corrosion control." Winters explained that the additive "reacts with metal including lead to form an insoluble scale on the inside of drinking water pipes which prevents lead from leaching into the water." The implementation of this measure is set for fall 2018 and will cost the city $6.3 million and $310 thousand annually.

Toronto Water said that the city "has approximately 437 thousand residential City-owned water service connections, [and] 65 thousand were estimated to be lead." The city estimates that in "2016 approximately 32,500 remained."

City Council "approved the Lead in Drinking Water Mitigation Strategy, a multi-pronged approach aimed at minimizing the occurrence of lead in tap water," in 2011. One component of the strategy is the Capital Water Service Replacement Program where the city replaces "the City-owned portion of 3,000 substandard drinking water service pipes." Homeowners are responsible for the portion of the system on their property.

Donny Wong, Branch Manager of Waterworks Design for the City of Vancouver, said "all of the City's lead water services and water meters were removed as part of the replacement program in the 1980s." Wong added "most of Vancouver's water services and meters were not lead as copper became the preferred material for water service pipes in the 1940s," and most of the city was built twenty years later.

According to Wong the Vancouver does not "plan any retrofits in the future as it was recently checked and confirmed in 2016 that the City's water system no longer has any lead components."

The issue and degree of lead in municipal service lines appears to be a question of when the system was built, as the use of lead was phased out. Municipalities do have access to federal funds for infrastructure projects, such as water system retrofits, though the financial demand outweighs the funds available. In addition, only large projects are admissible under the Infrastructure Bank, another hurdle in completely removing lead in all water systems in Canada. More time and discussion is needed before any definitive role for the federal government in aiding municipalities and people free themselves of lead in their water.

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