Evidence of meeting #83 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was utilities.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Bernadette Conant  Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Water Network
Michèle Grenier  Executive Director, Ontario Water Works Association
Graham Gagnon  Professor, Centre for Water Resources Studies, Faculty of Engineering, Dalhousie University, As an Individual
Marc Edwards  Professor, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, As an Individual
Bruce Lanphear  Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, As an Individual
Carl Yates  General Manager, Halifax Water
Reid Campbell  Director, Water Services, Halifax Water

5 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Yes, always. Thank you, Mr. Sweet. I agree with you.

Mr. Lanphear, this is another of those factoids that go by, and you don't know if they're true or not. I have heard that if there are lead service lines in Metro Vancouver, the risk there isn't necessarily as high because of the properties of our water supply there. Our water doesn't necessarily create the corrosion, etc. Is that your understanding?

5 p.m.

Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, As an Individual

Dr. Bruce Lanphear

If you look at our water supply in Vancouver, you see a phenomenal water supply, and corrosion control is used effectively. Even though, for example, my home in Fairview had old lead pipe—we replaced it, but there is lead pipe there—as long as the corrosion control is done well, we shouldn't have a problem unless there's maintenance or other things that disrupt it.

I would also say that other communities in B.C., such as Pemberton, don't have adequate corrosion control. Not only do they have problems with their pipes and their plumbing because of that, but they also have problems with lead. They don't have the facilities to bring about their corrosion control, so I think one big part of this discussion needs to take into account the smaller municipalities, the townships, and the first nation communities that don't have the facilities for corrosion control.

November 23rd, 2017 / 5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Well, certainly as we look at replacing water systems for first nations, some of which have been under boil water advisories for a couple of decades, I'm wondering if somebody is looking at that aspect of it as well. That's a question I'll ask of somebody else.

Mr. Yates, maybe you can build on comments we had from the previous panel. How is it that a partial replacement actually worsens the situation? What goes on there? For instance, if the municipality replaces its piece but the homeowner doesn't, why does that make it worse?

5:05 p.m.

General Manager, Halifax Water

Carl Yates

There are a couple of things that go on, but the most important tone is that a lot of the lead gets into solid particles that adhere to the pipes—

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

I'm sorry, but could you push the button on your microphone?

5:05 p.m.

General Manager, Halifax Water

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

There we go.

5:05 p.m.

General Manager, Halifax Water

Carl Yates

There are a couple of things that go on, as Dr. Gagnon has said, but we believe that one of the most important things is that a lot of the lead is in the form of solid particles that have adhered to the inside of the lead service line. When that's cut, disturbed, moved, or rolled up as part of the construction process, those lead particles get released. They sit in the pipe and, as water moves through the lead service line over the next period of months or years, those particles get moved into the plumbing and through the tap.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

If you buy a house built prior to 1960, would you say that the chance there's lead there, either through the solder or through the service line, is pretty high? For somebody who is listening to this and who might start to get alarmed, what remedial steps can they take right now?

Mr. Edwards talked about the filter you can buy. Contrary to some earlier comments, it seems that it's not a terribly expensive thing. Would something even as simple as running the water for a minute before you draw your drinking water be a good idea?

5:05 p.m.

Reid Campbell Director, Water Services, Halifax Water

We have a package of information that we provide to customers. A lot of times we have customers who have a lead service line and for various reasons are not able to act, so it's exactly that.

As Dr. Edwards said, we have point-of-use filters that we give out as temporary measures, and we also give out instructions to homeowners on how to flush their taps so that they're not using water that has been sitting in pipes for a long time. At best, they're temporary measures. We're relying on customers to maintain filters and replace cartridges. With time, their vigilance goes away. Also, with regard to flushing the taps, people get enthusiastic about doing that for a few weeks or months, but with time they lose diligence for that.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Judy Sgro

Thank you very much. We'll go on to Mr. Iacono.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Angelo Iacono Liberal Alfred-Pellan, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I would like to thank the witnesses for being here today. Their remarks are very interesting.

What are the sources of lead in drinking water, apart from the pipes?

5:05 p.m.

General Manager, Halifax Water

Carl Yates

There's lead in older solder, which was put in prior to 1960 with different service lines. There's also quite a bit of lead in brass fixtures. In older buildings, lead will come into solution from those types of fixtures.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Angelo Iacono Liberal Alfred-Pellan, QC

Can the treatment of drinking water significantly reduce lead levels, increase water quality, and reduce risks?

5:05 p.m.

General Manager, Halifax Water

Carl Yates

I think it's one part of the solution. I believe that corrosion control is a very important part of controlling lead, but we do not rely on it in and of itself. We believe that because of the disturbances in the system in terms of the galvanic cell created between lead and copper, you will continue to have lead issues from that lead service line itself. We say that both need to be done together and that it requires the utility to understand and characterize the drinking water they supply.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Angelo Iacono Liberal Alfred-Pellan, QC

Thank you.

Mr. Edwards, I have a question for you. With respect to the management of drinking water treatment and distribution, as well as waste-water treatment, what level of coordination exists between the different levels of government?

5:05 p.m.

Professor, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, As an Individual

Dr. Marc Edwards

I think that it has been largely left to the water utility, and by and large they've done a good job. In response to direct regulation, obviously if there is a law, they are mandated to meet it. Some of our standards here in the United States are more about common sense or are voluntary, and the extent to which those are followed really varies dramatically from water company to water company.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Angelo Iacono Liberal Alfred-Pellan, QC

Thank you.

I now would turn to the Canadian part with the same question: what level of coordination would you anticipate to be the proper one?

5:10 p.m.

Director, Water Services, Halifax Water

Reid Campbell

As you know, in Canada Health Canada establishes the maximum acceptable concentrations through the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality. Then they are adopted or not adopted by each province as the province sees fit.

One difficulty in Canada is that the level of adherence to the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality varies from province to province. Some provinces, like Nova Scotia, fully adopt the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality. Other provinces create their own but similar guidelines. Some provinces just adopt the ones they think are important to their province, and lead would be...I wouldn't say discretionary, but something for which the guidelines would be followed by some provinces but not by others.

Then all municipalities are regulated differently within their province. Some utilities are larger and have more resources to deal with the problem; others are smaller and don't have the resources.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Angelo Iacono Liberal Alfred-Pellan, QC

Thank you.

Mr. Lanphear, do you want to add something to that?

5:10 p.m.

Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, As an Individual

Dr. Bruce Lanphear

I would agree that there are a lot of inconsistencies. Some do very well. I've been very pleased to hear today from Mr. Yates. It sounds as though they have a very aggressive program and they are very protective. I wish all of us across Canada could have that kind of protection.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Angelo Iacono Liberal Alfred-Pellan, QC

Thank you.

Madam Chair, I'll be giving up the rest of my time.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Judy Sgro

Mr. Ellis, you have two minutes.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Neil Ellis Liberal Bay of Quinte, ON

Mr. Yates, I want to touch on what Bruce said.

What I'm hearing is that the program you are implementing seems to be setting something like a gold standard. Why is this happening all of a sudden? Was there a change of leadership at your utility in your city so that you're championing this? I commend you for it, because I see that in a lot of the practices you're implementing, you're ahead of the curve. Why is that? Is that because of poisoning in your municipality or just leadership, or what happened?

5:10 p.m.

General Manager, Halifax Water

Carl Yates

We like to start, certainly, with leadership.

There are really two aspects, I think, for our organization. Our governance structure is very different from that of many utilities across Canada. I guess in simple terms we are like a crown corporation of the municipality, and we are regulated by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.