Forced lead testing could weigh down township finances

Coun­cillors here are asking for other municipalities to support them in a bid to change the rules when it comes to tests for lead in local drinking water supply systems.
On Monday night, councillors passed a resolution regarding new regulations resulting from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Wellington North contends that under those regulations, the number of annual samples has increased substantially – based on populations served.
The cost for the additional sampling and labour costs must be covered through water rates.
The bone of contention for Wellington North is “the number of samples required are not proportionate when comparing small drinking water systems to drinking water systems of large municipalities of 100,000 or more.”
Due to amalgamations, many small municipalities are responsible for a number of small drinking water systems located in a small geographic area.
As a result, Wellington North is asking that the pro­vince reduce the lead sampling requirements proportionally to the number of samples required for municipalities of 100,000 or more.
Works Director Gary Wil­liam­son told councillors that the regulations as they now exist will substantially in­crease the number of tests required each year.
“In a nutshell, we will need to take 78 sampling tests be­tween Dec. 15, 2006 to April 15, 2008, and a further 78 tests between June 15, 2008 and Oct. 15, 2008.”
Each sampling test requires tests for lead, ph levels, and alkalinity.
While 156 tests may not sound that bad, Williamson said, each test re­quires getting permission to perform the tests at a residence.
That process must be explained fully to the owner before starting.
Then, taps must be run for five minutes, let sit for another half hour, then take the samples for each of the testing catego­ries. Residents would subsequently be informed of the results.
However, if the water does not pass the test, William­son said steps would need to be taken to address the situation and discussions would need to be held with the officer of health as investigators would check into the source of contamination.
The township’s first step would be to excavate the muni­cipal lines to the curb to determine if there are lead connections, which would need to be replaced.
The issue, as Williamson sees it, is that under current sampling requirements – samplings needed for Arthur and Mount Forest’s drinking water systems (for a population of 8,000) total 176, while the city of Toronto (of roughly three million people)is required to take only 260 samples.
“It’s not fair.”
Though the exact timeframe is not known, Williamson anti­cipates at least two hours of staff time per test, including sampling and explanation of the process to residents, dealing with refusals to enter properties and added bookwork,
In addition, the person do­ing the work will require a ve­hicle to get to the various sites and transport the samples. Plus each sample has costs associated with testing. Each lead sampling test will cost $15, and each alkaline test $12.
He said a lowball estimate of costs will be in the range of $20,000 – providing all the properties pass the tests.
If not, various steps will need to be taken to address the problem and potential mean the replacement of sections of water mains.
Those costs would be covered by local water rates.
“When I say it could cost $20,000 in the first year – that is a conservative estimate,” Williamson said.
“This will take up a whole lot of time and money, for [a problem] we may or may not have.”
Councillor John Matusinec, chairman of the water and sewer committee said it seems like every meeting there are new regulations.
“While we want safe drinking water, this seems out of line.”
If additional regulations keep being handed down for local municipalities to implement and pay for, Matusinec said “It may come to the point where people can’t afford to have water in their homes.”
Williamson added previous spot testing in the Arthur and Mount Forest systems indicate their are no problems with the supply.
Matusinec added that, if after testing, problems are discovered and it is not due to municipal connection, “who is going to tell the homeowner that all his plumbing needs to be replaced?”
Yake added that Wellington North is not opposed to testing for lead in the water system. However, he said a more fair way needs to be looked at de­termining the amount of testing based on population.