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Investigations

City of Regina says it plans to fast-track lead service replacement program

In light of a recent investigation, the city of Regina says it's drafting a motion to fast track its lead service connection replacement program and making testing results public. .
In light of a recent investigation, the city of Regina says it's drafting a motion to fast track its lead service connection replacement program and making testing results public. . Dave Parsons / Global News

In light of a recent investigation that showed high levels of lead in the drinking water of some Regina homes, the city says it’s drafting a motion to fast-track its lead service connection replacement program.

“It is definitely a problem and we are not minimizing anything here,” Mayor Michael Fougere said.

“We want to make sure that we have the program accelerated so that [on] the city-side, our connections are done right away and at the same time we do the homeowners’ side as well.”

READ MORE: Investigation into lead in Canada’s drinking water spurs calls for action across country

The mayor said what that will look like for homeowners is not yet known, but may consist of a cost-sharing program, making it mandatory for residents to replace their portion of lead pipes.

“Ninety-five per cent of the city connections are lead-free, so the vast majority of water is lead-free. The source of the water from Buffalo Pound is lead-free. It’s those connections on the homeowners’ side and the city’s side that have lead in it,” Fougere said.

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“It is a small area of the city, not the entire city. We want to make sure people feel safe drinking water.”

The secrets of Canada’s tap water, explained
The secrets of Canada’s tap water, explained

During a one-year investigation which included nine universities and 10 media outlets, including Global News and the Regina Leader-Post, 2,600 tap water samples were obtained from Regina, Moose Jaw and Saskatoon.

The results showed that 58 per cent of those samples contained lead levels higher than Health Canada’s recommended limit of five parts per billion (ppb), some of the highest levels of lead-tainted water in Canada.

Experts stressed the importance of transparency and making test results public, something Fougere says Regina will look at doing as well — posting test results to the city’s website.

“Since it’s your customers, why wouldn’t you want them to have all the information that’s possible, so that they can make informed decisions,” said Marc Edwards, a civil engineering professor at Virginia Tech.

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.

READ MORE: Inside the investigation that exposed lead-laced drinking water in Canada

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The city of Regina said it’s also looking at expanding the city’s free water filter program, possibly over the next two or three years, which is a change from the current one-year supply.

Regina originally had around 7,000 lead service lines on the public side of residential properties to replace, but that number has been reduced to 3,600.

Currently, the city is on track to replace 160 lead service lines by the end of the year, an increase from 144 in 2018 and 109 in 2017. At the current rate, the city estimates it would take between 20 and 25 years to replace all remaining lead service lines.

Saskatoon, on the other hand, replaces between 300 and 400 lead service lines every year and currently has just over 2,800 lines left to replace. It’s on track to replace those lines by 2026, but does not offer free testing or a free filter program.

When asked about schools and daycares, Fougere said the city will be looking into testing those, as well.

“We will be looking at those, too; we will have to do that,” Fougere said.

“I can’t speak to details about any school or daycare but we will make sure the water is safe in communities.”

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“In older neighbourhoods where buildings were built in the 1950s is one case in point to look at those in those areas, as well.”

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READ MORE: Children in schools and daycares across Canada are exposed to unsafe water

Fougere also met with Minister Responsible for the Water Security Agency Greg Ottenbreit and said one area in which both the province and federal government could offer more support is through infrastructure transfers.

“Revenue-sharing is not an option for us, but infrastructure support would be helpful for us,” Fougere said.

“You want to have commitment of funding, but I know realistically in the short period of time [Ottenbreit] can’t say that,” he continued. “I totally understand that. I didn’t ask him for funding, I said that infrastructure support, and federal provincial infrastructure support, would be the way to do that.”