Regina city council has committed to replacing all lead service connectors — on both private and public property — by 2036.
In 2019, council committed to replacing the lines by 2025. However, following a report by city administration, councillors voted unanimously to support the 15-year replacement program on Wednesday.
City administration gave council options from five-year to 30-year timelines, but recommended 15 years as the best balance between affordability and limiting the disruption to the city’s construction season.
However, some residents want to see the process fast-tracked to five years.
“It is unreasonable to expect residents to wait 10 or 15 years to be protected from a toxic substance in their drinking water,” said Casey Peart, a board member with the Cathedral Area Community Association.
“Fifteen years means babies born today may be exposed to lead contamination for their entire childhoods.”
There are roughly 3,600 city-owned lead service connections in Regina, mostly located in wards 1, 2 and 3. These service lines may contribute to elevated levels of lead in affected residents’ drinking water, according to a city report.
Based on the age of neighbourhoods, city administration estimates there are another 7,000 to 8,000 lead service connectors on private property, although it does not know the exact locations of them all.
An investigation into tap water samples showed Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw have some of the highest levels of lead-tainted water in the country.
Although it can impact anyone, in adults, lead increases the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems and kidney dysfunction as well as complications during pregnancy.
In children, lead has been linked to behavioural problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and can even result in a loss of IQ points.
“This should be treated as a health emergency,” Peart said.
The 15-year replacement program makes it mandatory for homeowners to replace their private lead service connectors at the same time the city ones are being replaced.
According to a city report, the average cost is about $5,000 to $10,000 for homeowners, but there are payment plans to help limit the financial impact on residents.
Even so, Peart said she is worried low-income families are being unfairly impacted.
“We’re finding that folks are running into issues and barriers all the way along the process from obtaining lead testing kits to accessing the filtration system,” Peart said.
Impacted residents are eligible for the city’s annual water filter program, which offers three options: a rebate, a tap-mounted filter and a pitcher filter.
However, only about 20 per cent of eligible residents have taken advantage of the program.
“If you’ve got a concern, you’ll be able to access a robust program on the part of the city to get a water filter and over the course of the next 15 years we will solve this problem,” said Bob Hawkins, Ward 2 councillor.
Council tasked city administration with creating “robust” education and communication plans with the goal of achieving 100 per cent uptake in its water filter program.
The cost to replace the city-owned lines is estimated at $36 million, which will be funded through the utility fund.
According to city administration, the utility model base case proposes a three per cent annual rate increase in each year from 2022 to 2024 to meet the objectives of the utility.
The 15-year lead service replacement program requires an additional two per cent increase to the utility rate in 2022, for a total rate increase of five per cent.
Currently, city administration prioritizes replacement based on the road renewal program and residents’ requests.
Administration is set to report back to council annually to provide updates on the replacement program.