Residents who had their water tested after being alerted about the possibility of lead-tainted water in Saskatchewan are drawing attention to the patchwork of replacement programs in Moose Jaw, Regina and Saskatoon.
It’s something that could cost homeowners thousands.
As part of a year-long investigation by nine universities and 10 media outlets, including Global News, the University of Regina School of Journalism and the Regina Leader-Post, 2,600 water samples were collected from all three cities.
While 58 per cent of those samples showed lead levels above Health Canada’s recommended limit of five parts per billion (ppb), some residents are wondering how much it would cost to replace their portion of lead pipes.
Out of Moose Jaw’s approximately 12,000 homes, it’s estimated around 2,000 of them have lead services lines. The City of Regina estimates it has around 3,600 lead service lines, while Saskatoon estimates 2,800.
But city officials say it’s hard to estimate just how many homes have lead service lines on the private side.
Older homes — those built more than 40 years ago — are at greater risk because they are more likely to have lead plumbing.
Lead was used as a material for water pipes until 1975 and in solder used to join pipes until 1986. Until 2014, faucets and hardware could contain up to eight per cent lead.
Shortly after purchasing their Moose Jaw home around 10 years ago, Craig Reichert and Roxanne Rath say they found out their property might have lead service lines.
Once the city tested their water, that’s when they learned the truth.
“We were quite surprised to find out, you know, not only that we had lead piping but how high of a content it was in our water,” Rath said.
Journalism students from the University of Regina collected water samples at the couple’s home in March 2019. Lab results revealed lead levels of 14 ppb in the first litre out of the taps in the morning, 65 ppb after running the water for 45 seconds, and 7.1 ppb at the two-minute mark.
The highest test result, which measured lead levels in water that sat in their service line overnight, was 13 times higher than Health Canada’s recommended limit.
They say they still haven’t replaced their lines because of the cost and that the city won’t replace their portion until Reichert and Rath have replaced their side.
They were told by the city it would cost around $9,000, they add.
In Saskatoon, residents have no choice but to replace their portion of lead pipes, splitting the cost with the city 60-40, with the option to repay over three, five or 10 years, interest-free.
According to the city, it costs homeowners a set rate of $3,520.
“Because we made a decision to prioritize this replacement, we have one of the most aggressive programs to get rid of those lead lines,” said Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark.
While no program like this exists in Moose Jaw or Regina, companies Global News spoke with say it could cost homeowners around $5,000 to replace their portion of lead pipes. But that’s just from the curb to the home; the internal cost would vary after that.
Now, Regina’s mayor says the city plans to reevaluate its program.
“We’re going to look at how we can enhance the program, perhaps make it mandatory, splitting the cost,” Regina Mayor, Michael Fougere said. “We will look at what other cities are doing, as well.”
The City of Moose Jaw is also replacing around 80 kilometres of their water mains which are made of cast iron and scheduled for replacement through a 20-year program.
In a media release sent Monday, the city says “homeowners are given the option of private replacement at the same time city connections are being replaced,” calling it a significant cost saving.
While both Moose Jaw and Regina also offer free filters as a temporary solution, many residents say they want to see more support and a greater sense of urgency.