Calgary on track for 2023 replacement of lead pipes

Calgary is making strides in replacing lead water supply lines across the city. LIVEWIRE CALGARY FILE PHOTO

Calgary has made significant strides in eliminating lead pipes after a 2019 Canada-wide investigation revealed their existence in this and other cities.

The city began work on its Accelerated Lead Service Pipe Removal program after a $14 million approval in September 2020. The aim was to completely replace the pipes by 2023.

The affected areas mainly include homes built between 1939 and 1947 during the copper shortages of World War II.

A 2020 city report showed that there were 550 public utility lines. Calgary had a fraction of the lead plumbing in cities like Edmonton and Montreal.

According to new information provided by the City of Calgary, 209 known lead properties have been hydrovaced and 167 have been confirmed as lead and 42 as non-lead. They want to have hydrovaced 350 known lead addresses by the end of 2022.

“Of those we have confirmed as lead, 104 have been replaced with a further 70 to be completed by the end of this year,” the city said in an emailed response.

When the City of Hydrovacs calls an address, they also confirm whether a private service line is maintained. They are working with homeowners to replace this line.

James Murphy owns a home in West Hillhurst that was built in the 1940s. He had done some research on the potential of lead piping and found that his home was more likely to be affected.

Through the city’s lead pipe website, Murphy signed up to have the water in his home tested. The contractor came and tested the water from their faucet.

“They took a few samples, went away and then sent us a letter with those samples and stated that the (lead) levels were higher than ideal,” Murphy told LiveWire Calgary.

Replacement of supply pipes at the faucet

Murphy said the city investigated further and found that the public side of the line was fine, it had already been updated. The private side of the line, which was the homeowner’s responsibility, was managed.

“We were informed that the city had a program that would help subsidize the cost of replacing the private side,” Murphy said.

“So we signed up for the program.”

Murphy said the city has been extremely helpful throughout the process. They even helped find potential contractors for the work.

When a pipe broke and the replacement had to be expedited, the city really picked up speed, Murphy said.

“They had a water truck outside our home within six to 12 hours,” he said.

The city’s subsidy program caps homeowner costs at $3,500. It can be paid in full or interest-free via property taxes over 15 years, the city said.

Murphy said the final bill for the replacement is between $6,000 and $7,000.

After reimbursement, the cost to his family was the prescribed $3,500.

“I think there’s a risk in owning an older home,” Murphy said.

“We basically bought an older house and knew there could be some surprises.”

Pipes for tap water in Calgary

Data Source: City of Calgary Public Water Lines. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Responsible for the public health of the city

count. Terry Wong, whose Ward 7 has a significant number of homes where lead piping could be a problem, said it was important to get rid of the lead piping quickly.

“It’s a combination of responsibility to do it now because we know the toxic damage it’s causing,” Wong said.

“But at the same time, they’ve been in the ground for 80 years, and I think the pace at which the city is removing them is the appropriate pace.”

Again, the city said it wants to replace the verified lead lines by 2023.

Their aim is to reduce the lead contamination in drinking water.

“Protecting public health by providing clean and safe drinking water is a very high priority for the City of Calgary. The city takes its responsibility to protect public health seriously,” read an emailed statement.

“Drinking water is tested by the city more than 100,000 times a year, and we continue to meet or better all provincial and federal guidelines.”

Three months passed from the first test to the replacement for Murphy and his family.

When they got the results back, they got a water filter straight away. This gave some rest until the work could be done.

After going through the process, Murphy encourages others who may be affected to have their water tested. It’s about health, but also about peace of mind.

“We have another water quality test with the city after the work is complete just to confirm that levels have come down – which I suspect because everything is new as far as the plumbing is concerned – so we’re looking forward to that,” he said .

For more information on lead piping in homes in Calgary click here.

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