I'm Steve Craik, and I'm with EPCOR in Canada.
EPCOR owns and operates the drinking water system for the City of Edmonton. We provide drinking water to a population of about 900,000 for the City of Edmonton and approximately 65 communities in the Edmonton region, serving a population of about 1.2 million. We also operate several small and mid-sized water systems for clients in Alberta and British Columbia.
I'm going to touch on the lead issue in Edmonton, our program, the general challenges we see as a water utility, and the proposed new Health Canada guideline on lead in drinking water.
As with most large utilities, EPCOR has been proactively dealing with the lead issue. We have currently about 3,200 homes and small businesses in the city of Edmonton serviced through old lead service lines. This number refers to the section of service pipe that is owned by the water utility. We estimate that there are about 5,000 homes and small businesses in Edmonton where the service line material on the private property is also lead.
Our program consists of an annual notification of all residents in homes where we know there are lead service lines. We make an offer to test for lead levels at the tap in all of these homes and businesses. We also offer to provide a point-of-use filter that removes lead. As well, we offer to replace the utility side of the service line serving the property, and we provide customer education on the lead issue through web material and other communications. Recently, we also introduced a random testing program on lead for all homes in the city.
EPCOR's policy is that we'll replace the utility section of the lead service line provided the property owner has replaced their section. We will avoid partial service line replacements, as we understand that this can result in an increase in lead levels at the tap.
As for some of the challenges we face with our program and the issue of lead in drinking water, the first is dual ownership. The property owner owns the section of the service line on private property and they alone are responsible for maintaining that section of the service line.
Another is customer awareness and motivation. Property owners are usually surprised to learn that they own a piece of lead pipe and are generally reluctant to spend money to replace it. In Edmonton, the cost of private lead service line replacements can be as high as $8,000 to $9,000.
Another challenge is rental properties. Many lead service lines are attached to rental properties, and the resident of the home has little or no control over service line replacement.
Poor records are also a challenge. While the utility maintains electronic records of the service line material portion that's owned by the utility, there is no database on service line material on private property, so we rely on estimates.
As well, although we have a policy to avoid partial lead service line replacements, we are often compelled to replace the pipe because it has failed or is connected to a water main that is being renewed.
In terms of filters, while we do provide filters for the use of customers with lead service lines, we consider this a short-term measure.
Also, there is lead from other sources. Our random sampling program has shown that lead levels can sometimes exceed the current guideline, even in homes where there is no lead service line.
Finally, there are the sampling and testing protocols. The outcomes of any lead monitoring program are greatly dependent on how the samples are collected and tested, how many are collected, and when and where they are collected. There seems to be a lack of consensus in the industry on this issue, and this is somewhat confusing for water utilities.
Last, on the impact of the proposed Health Canada guideline revision, as a water utility we agree with the need to revise the guideline, and on matters of health risk, we trust the experts at Health Canada.
Over the long term, the guideline will drive the removal of lead and a reduction in lead in service lines and at the tap across the country. However, for many utilities, we will not be able to meet the guideline in the near term, and we may be out of compliance with our provincial regulation when it is released. That's a concern for us. The guideline should also clarify proper sampling and testing protocols for water utilities and requirements for monitoring programs.
There's a final message for the committee. We feel that lead in drinking water is a very important public health issue, probably one of our most important public health issues at this time, but it's very complex, with no easy and rapid solutions. It will take many years to completely remove the sources of lead, and any new guideline or regulation should therefore consider an adjustment period for utilities.
Finally, larger water systems are probably more prepared to manage the issues associated with lead, and most have some kind of program in place already; however, small and mid-sized water utilities I think will be much less well prepared.
Thank you for listening.