Mr. P Mauro, P. Eng.
Manager of Engineering
City of Thunder
I have linked to a document that I found on the city of Thunder Bay website. The document discusses the lead water pipe issue and things that you can do to minimize the amount of lead you are consuming in your drinking water. The following is an excerpt from that document.
What is the City doing?
The City has programs to help reduce lead levels in our drinking water. The waterman replacement program ensures the piped water infrastructure is renewed. When watermains are replaced, the service connections are also replaced to the property line. The homeowner has the option to make arrangements with the City or a contractor, at that time, to replace the service from the property line into the house at their own expense.
As you can see, the document states that it is the City’s policy to replace the service connection to the property line. The same information can be found in the 2009 Water Quality Report. Sounds great except for the fact that it is not true. I have found that almost if not all of the houses that are on streets that have had the main sewer and water lines replaced have had the service replaced to the shutoff valve only. This valve is never located on the property line. The distance from the valve to the property line can vary a great deal. This section of the service line can make up as much as 90% of the total distance from the valve to the house. In my case, the distance from the valve to the property line is approx. 50% of the total length from the valve to the house.
As you can see from Figure 1, if there is a sidewalk, the shutoff valve (A) is always located on the opposite side of the sidewalk from the home. In the rare occasion that the contractor was asked for a quote for the work required to replace the lead waterline service, this quote was inflated by the inclusion of the cost of replacing the city owned waterline that was not replaced under the road work. Homeowners were never given a proper quote. Had EVERY homeowner been given quotes that actually reflected the work that was to be done on THEIR property, it is possible that more would have had the work done.
Figure 2 is a photo of Squitti’s Grocery on Bay Street. You can see that the face of the building is almost right on the property line. No service replacement was done on this building that I know of. The sidewalk was removed only a few days ago. If the work was required, the cost to the homeowner should have been minimal. Is there still a lead water line going to that building? If there was before, there still is now.
This brings us to the few homeowners that did pay to have the work done. Did the city reimburse those homeowners for the work that was done on city property? If not, you owe them money.
I do not understand why shutoff valves could not have been moved to the property line. This would have eliminated all of the city’s portion of the lead service line. In most cases, sidewalks are being replaced as part of the contract. Does it not make sense to do the work under the sidewalk now? Now, when it is much easier? Now when it is much cheaper?
What we have here is a case of the city cutting corners because the City is broke. Deferring work that can be done now at a known cost to some future date in hopes that it will never be be done sounds wrong to me. Unfortunately, this “see know evil” approach misses the opportunity to eliminate many kilometers of lead water pipe in the distribution system making it safer for the residents. I thought that is the goal of these water/sewer pipe replacement projects. Am I wrong?
So who’s fault is it? Well, you said in your email dated August 17, 2010, “Our policy is to advise the residents of the option to replace the lead service connection. The City would fund the cost of replacement from the main to the property line.” It is, of course, the homeowners fault! By their refusal to have their service line replaced, you are absolved. Your hands are clean. You tried your best.
But were the residents really advised? What exactly were they told? What did they know? The City of Toronto is undertaking a similar operation.
In a CBC News report dated March 10, 2010, Glenn De Baeremaeker, chair of the Toronto public works committee, said keeping lead pipes is not an option. “We are going to spend about $250 million over the next five years to make sure we get out our lead pipes.””We just can’t legislate common sense and safety,” he said. “I would encourage anyone with lead pipes in their house to get rid of them as soon as is humanly possible.” I don’t hear talk like that coming out of any office in our City Hall.
In Toronto, the contractor is required to talk, face to face, with every resident explaining their options in great detail. Residents are actually “encouraged” to have the work done. That sounds like a good system. Was that done here? I don’t think so. I received a notice in my mailbox mentioning something about having to deal with the contractor to have my lead water lines replaced. The problem is that my waterline comes in off of Banning Street. The contractor was not doing any work on Banning Street. What does that say about just how much thought and planning was given to this whole operation?
It looks to me that the City of Thunder Bay does not want the homeowners to have the lead water lines replaced. Neither your office or the contractor made any kind of effort to try an convince the people to have the work done.
So what does this all mean? It means that, someday well into the future, when all the main water and sewer lines that need replacing have been replaced, tens of millions of dollars spent and all the service connections have been replaced up to the shutoff valve, the city of Thunder Bay will still own many kilometers of lead water lines. It also means that the City’s Environment Department had better edit their reference material dealing with lead water lines to better reflect the work that is ACTUALLY being done. We don’t want people such as members of City Councilor to get the wrong idea.