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Calgary on track for 2023 replacement of lead pipes

Calgary has made significant progress in the elimination of lead pipes following a 2019 Canada-wide investigation showing their existence in this city and others.

The city began work on their Accelerated Lead Service Pipe Removal program after $14 million was approved in September 2020. The goal was to have the pipes completely replaced by 2023.

The affected areas primarily cover homes that were built between 1939 and 1947, during World War II’s copper shortage.

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

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

“Of those we have confirmed as lead, 104 have been replaced with another 70 to be complete by the end of this year,” read an emailed city response.

When the city hydrovacs at an address, they also confirm if a private service line is lead. They work with homeowners to replace that line.

James Murphy owns a West Hillhurst home that was built in the 1940s. He’d done some research on the potential for lead pipes and realized the probability was higher his home might be impacted.

Via the city’s lead pipes webpage, Murphy signed up to have the water in his home tested. The contractor came and tested the water from their tap.

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

Replacement of service pipes on tap

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 lead.

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

“So, we enrolled in the program.”

Murphy said the city was extremely helpful throughout the entire process. They even helped identify potential contractors for the work.

It was when a pipe burst, and their replacement had to be expedited, that the city really stepped up, Murphy said.

“They had a water truck in front of our house within six to 12 hours,” he said.

The city’s subsidy program limits the homeowner cost to $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 was between $6,000 and $7,000.

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

“I think that is a risk of owning an older home,” Murphy said.

“We kind of went into purchasing an older home and knowing that there could be some surprises along the way.”

Lead water service line pipes in Calgary

Data source: City of Calgary, Public Water Service Lines. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

City public health responsibility

Coun. Terry Wong, whose Ward 7 has a substantial number of homes where lead pipes could be an issue, said eliminating the lead pipes swiftly is important.

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

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

Again, the city said they want the verified lead lines replaced by 2023.

Their goal is to reduce any exposure to lead in the 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 the responsibility to protect public health seriously,” they said in an emailed statement.

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

From first test to replacement for Murphy and his family was three months.

When they got the results back, they immediately got a water filter. That provided some peace of mind until the work could be done.

Having been 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 one more follow up water quality testing with the city now that the work has been done just to confirm that the levels have decreased – which I assume it will because everything’s new as far as the piping goes – so we’re looking forward to that,” he said.

More information on lead pipes in Calgary homes can be found here.