I call to order this meeting of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. Pursuant to the order of reference of Tuesday, February 7, 2017, we're doing a study of water quality.
With us from the City of Welland, we have Sal Iannello, general manager, infrastructure and development services.
From EPCOR Utilities, we have Stephen Craik, director, water quality assurance.
We have everybody by video conference or some other kind of remote communication.
From Ville de Trois-Rivières, we have Marie-Claude Guérin, specialist in drinking water.
As an individual, we have Michèle Prévost, professor, École Polytechnique de Montréal.
Also from École Polytechnique de Montréal is Élise Deshommes.
Welcome to all of you.
We'd like to start with Mr. Iannello, please.
The City of Welland, as is the case with many old communities, has lead water issues in a small portion of the city. Our own testing program showed that 10% of the samples exceeded provincial guidelines.
In addition to the city's own replacement program to replace lead services on the city side, in 2008 the city initiated a program to help fund homeowners wishing to replace their private side by budgeting $50,000 to provide fifty-fifty cost sharing to a maximum of $750.
In 2010 the City of Welland and the Niagara Region, which provides the treated water to the city's distribution system, were required to submit a corrosion control plan to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. Submitted in November 2010, the plan highlighted that there were still 1,346 known lead service lines in the distribution system; 612 of the lead services were on the city-owned side, and 734 of the lead services were privately owned.
The use of treatment additives was considered in the plan, but the preferred solution was to replace all of the lead services in the system. Presently there remain 296 known lead services on the city-owned portion and 661 on the privately owned side of the services.
The city estimates that it would take about three to four years to replace all of the remaining known city-owned lead services as we conduct our replacement programs. While the city has removed over 51% of the known lead services on the city side, the private side has not seen similar success, as approximately only 10% of the known lead services have been replaced on the private portion. This low uptake is despite the city's efforts to increase—
While the city has removed over 51% of the known lead services on the city side, the private side has not seen similar success, as only approximately 10% of the known lead services have been replaced on the private portion. This low uptake is despite the city's efforts to increase the number of private replacements by 2011, joining with the Niagara Region in a joint effort whereby the Niagara Region matched the city's annual contributions so that a budget of $100,000 was established through which homeowners could get grants of up to $1,500.
The city continues to advertise the lead replacement program to all residents via “Infotap”, a brochure that is sent to residents every two years, and through advertising in the local newspaper and on the city's website as well as on a new large screen monitor located outside city hall.
The city has met with regional public health departments since the development of the corrosion control plan. The health department will, as requested by the city, visit residents where there are vulnerable populations residing and where the owner is reluctant to change the private lead service line. As well, the health department has volunteered to visit residents where high lead concentrations have been detected in plumbing samples, based on the city's testing program.
We remain hopeful that many homeowners will take up the offer, but unfortunately, we believe it will be a long time before the private side is completely converted to non-lead materials. At present, the city is looking at changing the funding to cover 100% of the private side in order to expedite the private side's removal of lead services.
Funding is an issue with the city. As is the case with many other municipalities, we face many challenges due to the age of our infrastructure and the declining industrial base, putting pressure on the affordability of the service. As you no doubt have heard from many municipal governments, sustainable, predictable funding from the federal and provincial governments would aid in clearing up many of the areas of concern not only in water and sewer, but in all the services provided by the municipal governments.
In closing, I would also like to offer aid, should you require it, from the Canadian Public Works Association, of which I am presently the Ontario board member. This association has members across Canada and is part of the American Public Works Association across the United States. We can offer expertise in all aspects of public works.
Thank you for the opportunity to present to you today.
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.
Good afternoon, everyone.
The city of Trois-Rivières has a population of 136,000. We have 965,000 kilometres of water pipes. Since 2013, we have been working to improve method of our water sampling in order to detect the presence of lead and copper. We have taken a number of samples and we have had only a very few results that were outside the norms. Our anticorrosion system is effective and we monitor the pH level in the water quite well. We conduct interesting research and we have gained some definite expertise in water systems and in supplying houses with water according to their construction dates.
Only a few samples have revealed the presence of lead. We then retested the samples at longer intervals. Perhaps we did not do the sampling correctly, in terms of the time required to let the water run before the samples are taken.
So everything was fine when we reviewed our work. In 2017, the results of the samples analyzed did not exceed the standards in any of the six systems that supply the city of Trois-Rivières.
I'm a professor of civil engineering at the Polytechnique de Montréal, where I hold an industrial chair on drinking water, co-funded by NSERC and by the utilities in the greater area of Montreal that are serving about three million customers.
I've conducted research on water quality and distribution systems since about 1990 and have been involved in research on lead since 2005. I was the principal investigator of two multi-university and utility partnership initiatives to reduce lead at the tap across Canada through a suite of laboratory field studies and field studies funded by the Canadian Water Network, which was present at your last meeting, represented by Dr. Conant.
These studies were also completed by an epidemiology co-study on 302 kids in Montreal showing the impact of lead in drinking water on the blood lead levels of Canadian children. More recently, I've been advising the Hong Kong inquiry on excess lead, the Pew foundation, which I'll refer to later in my intervention, and the U.S. EPA for modelling and sampling methodologies.
Today I am accompanied by Dr. Elise Deshommes, a research fellow at my research chair. Dr. Deshommes has nine years of experience on lead in drinking water. She has published several papers on sampling, monitoring, and partial replacement, has participated in the EPI study, and has provided technical support to various committees, including at Health Canada.
I'll try to present my ideas in two ways, first as a reaction to the five micrograms per litre proposed by Health Canada, and then I'll try to summarize the main findings from the research I've conducted.
On the topic of the proposed new health guidelines, we all agree that lead is a recognized national issue, and I support the guidance proposed by Health Canada. I'd like to stress to the committee that this is a change from 10 micrograms—10 parts per million after six hours to five parts per million after a shorter stagnation—so basically, it is a tightening of the guidance, but not that much of a tightening, without going into technical details, when you look at the sampling protocols.
I base my support on two other things. First of all, there is the study of the Pew foundation in the U.S., which did a large study on the health and societal impacts of childhood exposure to lead. It is really useful. The study shows a large benefit from reducing lead at the tap from a value of 11 micrograms per litre, on average, to five micrograms on average, which is very similar to what Health Canada is doing. They scoped out the benefits in terms of the return on investment and showed $2.5 billion across the U.S. for the interventions aiming to remove the lead service lines throughout the U.S. This is an important number to remember.
My support is further justified by the result of the Montreal EPI study on the 303 kids, which showed that when the levels of lead are below 5 micrograms, the presence of a lead surface line does not impact or increase the blood lead levels of the children significantly.
Those are some remarks on the new Health Canada guidance, so now let me try to address three issues that I can take positions on, based on research results.
First of all, I heard in previous committee meetings a lot of questions about what the presence is across Canada, and I heard my colleagues from municipalities testifying. We completed a form survey with 21 utilities from six Canadian provinces to understand the presence in terms of how many LSLs, lead service lines, are present and what are the management practices across Canada.
What we found was quite striking. There could be from anywhere from none to 70,000 lead service lines in one given utility. Even more striking is that they can represent less than 1% to over 36% of the connections. In some utilities it's really a big problem. In others, it's much smaller.
On the impact of partial lead service line replacement, we have conducted two series of studies, both of which suggest that partial replacements are not the preferred solution, but they do not cause an increase in the amount of lead over the long term. This is an important piece of information, since utilities have a legacy of these partial connections and, as many have stated, it is difficult to obtain a complete replacement with the owner's participation.
Finally, to close, I would also like to add that my group has completed work to quantify the benefits of interventions for utilities to consider, whether it's removing lead service lines or changing bad faucets and connecting piping in schools, which is a very hot topic in Canada. I would like to say that with regard to the work we've done in quantifying the exposure in the lead service lines in homes and the partial lead service lines in homes and the schools, it is very clear that priority should be given to removing the lead service lines and, if possible, removing all of the service lines, even more so than—
Perhaps I could offer a partial answer to your question. I was involved in drafting the Ontario regs.
Yes, there's quite a bit of difference among the regulations in the different provinces. To give you a striking example, the Quebec regulation calls for a flush sample; you let your water run for five minutes, and the probability of finding a high level of lead is very low. On the other hand, Ontario has a 30-minute type of stagnation, which brings out a higher number.
It should be said that there's a lot of discrepancy among the ones that follow Health Canada's guidance, Ontario regulations, or Quebec regulations, and some provinces have very little enforcement of any kind. Yes, there is a lack of common regulations, or even common goals, in reducing lead across Canada.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'm going to attempt to get to the crux of the matter here. The reason that Mr. Bratina from the Hamilton riding brought this forward is all based on the challenge we have with lead, and of course the challenge it poses to our youngsters especially. I have a personal attachment to it. In my community we had a human health risk assessment done. It identified many contaminants of concern within our soils and grounds throughout the city. With that, lead was identified. Digging a bit deeper into the weeds, we recognized the impacts of lead, especially, once again, on our youngsters.
With that, I'm going to try to zero in on a resolve or a solution to this. I believe a lot of it boils down to one thing, and that's sustainable funding. We know it is a problem. Regardless of what province we're from, lead is simply not good to be contained within our drinking water. Coming from the pipes, whether it be on the public side or the private side, it has to be dealt with.
Let's zero in on the private side. This is a question for all of you, but I'll go to Mr. Iannello first, with the municipal experience he's had.
Sal, it's great to see you, by the way. It's been a while. In terms of your experience with respect to trying to come up with a sustainable funding formula, what are your thoughts on moving forward and how we can achieve that, not always by going to the taxpayer and/or the water and waste-water ratepayer, but other recommendations that you, or on behalf of the Canadian Public Works Association, can put forward in terms of what the federal government can actually participate in?
I think the bottom line with sustainable is that “predictable” is always the key word. That way we don't have to scrape together some amount of money every year to figure out what we're going to do and have a plan in place. As I believe my colleagues from Edmonton and the professor pointed out, the biggest problem is on the private side. The public side could be worked at.
Of course, as you are well aware, both Port Colborne and your home municipality in Welland, where I work, are older municipalities that have suffered huge industrial losses and therefore have problems with affordability of the water as it is. Anything we add to the cost takes it to the point where many of our households find it difficult. Any kind of sustainable and predictable funding would be fantastic, absolutely.
On this particular issue, as has been mentioned by others, the real crux of the problem is the private side. Many, many people do not understand the dangers of lead or feel they're not susceptible and use avoidance methods—i.e., that the percentage of water they actually drink is small. Those are the people we're having trouble selling it to. That's why, as I said, we've historically tried to create programs and increase the amount of money we put in. That's why I mentioned the one where we discussed with counsel the possibility of paying 100%. However, that then becomes difficult for the municipality to bear from a cost point of view. Certainly any federal or provincial support would be greatly appreciated. That's basically the bottom line.
I can't speak for all municipalities, but I'm sure it may have occurred to one or some.
In our case, we tried to fund it ourselves. As you're well aware, we have two tiers; there are two levels of government. The region has stepped up with some funding too, because they treat the water. Despite the fact that the water leaves their plant in good shape, through our program, they've provided a fair bit of funding. We've tried to operate in that way. We think it's doable. The funds in fact have remained unspent by the private side in many years. That's why I reiterate that from our side, absolutely, unlike some other municipalities, we have gone with partial replacement. That's why you see the two different numbers. When we get money, federal or provincial, for any kind of capital projects, and we do a lot of water projects, as you're well aware, we go in and replace the main. If we're replacing a main, we replace all the lead services. Our sampling after the fact has shown that there is no increase in the lead going into the home. We are focused. That's why absolutely any federal or provincial funding that allows us to replace water mains will aid us in getting rid of the public side of the services. Again, I'm going to reiterate that the public side [Technical difficulty—Editor].
Thank you, Madam Chair.
My thanks to all the witnesses who are with us this afternoon.
There is no doubt that the members of this committee are more and more aware of the inherent dangers of lead water pipes.
I would like to put my first question to Ms. Guérin, from Trois-Rivières.
If I understood what you said at the beginning of your presentation correctly, the results of the great majority of tests you conducted met the Canadian standard, with a few exceptions. You realized that you had not allowed enough time to let the water run before you took the sample. You redid the tests after letting the water run for longer and the results were within the standard. Do I have that right?
My next question is likely for the municipal officials.
Most major municipalities treat the water before it goes into the drinking water system. When that is so, the water contains no lead when it comes out of the filtration plant.
If owners of private systems do not change their part of their pipes and they let the water flow from the taps in the bathroom, from the shower, or from anywhere else in the house, they are returning water containing lead to the public system. But over the years, have you seen a drop in the concentration of lead in the water to be treated before it is put into the drinking water system?
Mr. Craik, can you answer that?
We offer money. We offer up to $1,500. We do help with the money. We are probably the best ones to be offering it.
I think the bottom line is that since you're dealing with private property, it's very difficult to force anybody, I guess, for lack of a better word, unless somebody legislated that we have the authority to enter the private property, rip out the line and replace it. Municipalities really don't want to go there. No councillor is going to approve a bylaw saying that I can rip up people's front yards.
We tried to get a bylaw of that type for a number of issues, and it's now subject to council approval. It has to do with other issues. It has to do with stormwater and storm drains, but it's the same concept. It's private property, a man's castle....
Thank you very much for being here today. My colleague said that he was really left field. I'm going to go right field.
I hear that you all have extensive experience and knowledge in this matter. We know that this is a complex problem, and it is crystal clear that action is needed. The question is, what and how? I'm addressing the question to you all, and we'd like to hear your comments.
What are your two or three suggestions you have to give us? You've researched this matter intensively. Yes, we are the legislators, but we need your input on what you suggest be done. What's the most immediate action that could be done? We must also take into consideration the cost, the bottom line, because there's a figure, and the higher the figure, the slower the action. How do we capitalize on spending less and having more results than spending more and having fewer results?
That's it. Can each one of you give us some insights on that? Thank you.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
My question is for Stephen or Marie-Claude, but anyone can please correct me while I go through this.
We've had a few witnesses come through. The way I see this, the main problem, aside from obviously the lead, is the fact that homeowners can't really afford to replace their portion of the service line. In order to remove as much lead as possible, you need a full replacement. The partial replacement just doesn't cut it.
It's difficult to address this from a government standpoint because the division of powers, if you will, make it a bit complicated. I think the real solution here or the most viable solution is actually the last point of contact, because even if you do the full replacement, there are corrosive elements that still leak into the water.
Stephen, you're saying that a filter probably isn't the most effective way, but we've seen in the United States that they actually do mandate that in some places. Isn't the best solution actually just to implement filters?
Sorry, Mr. Aubin, we're over your time.
Thank you very much to all of our witnesses. We appreciate very much your taking the time to provide us with sufficient information as we do this study.
We will suspend for a moment and then resume shortly.
Pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, October 25, 2017, we are examining Bill , an act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (community benefit). For those of you who were on the committee before, we dealt with this issue before under our current . He was hosting it. It subsequently was approved with two amendments from this committee. Then Mr. Hussen ended up being the minister and couldn't carry the bill any longer. Mr. Sangha picked it up. At that time it was Bill . It is now Bill C-344.
Mr. Sangha would you like to speak to the bill, please?
Madam Chair, it's my pleasure to come before the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity.
My private member's bill, Bill , is an act to amend section 20 of the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act to introduce community benefits. This committee has already done an extensive study on a similar bill, Bill , which could not go through due to administrative reasons, as the chair has already mentioned. You conducted your study on Bill C-227 and suggested a few amendments. Now I am here with my private member's bill, Bill C-344, with your suggested amendments.
Let me congratulate you all for the great work done on the previous bill, Bill .
Community benefit agreements, CBAs, are tangible socio-economic opportunities for neighbourhoods, local communities, and the environmental benefits that result from federal government projects across Canada. This includes local job creation, apprenticeships, education, and affordable housing. By giving more power to the minister of public services and procurement, Bill would make sure that the minister plays a leadership role towards the betterment of communities. This bill would empower the minister to ultimately create a platform to minimize delays and produce flexibility for communities' infrastructure development.
CBAs would require bidders on the proposal to provide information on the community benefits that the project would provide. CBAs would enable the minister to formulate agreements between developers and local community groups. CBAs would create a foundation to encourage local communities to form partnerships with developers and address local challenges.
My private member's bill, Bill , would require the minister to report back to Parliament every year on what community benefits have been enacted.
We notice that the federal investment funds are making significant improvements in all the ridings across Canada, even in Brampton. We have federal funds of approximately $95 million for Züm bus rapid transit and $69 million for stormwater management infrastructure for the Peel region. Similarly, every riding across Canada is getting funding for federal projects. It is obvious that if CBAs were tied to these federal investments, communities would thrive.
Bill would allow for comprehensive consultation with communities across Canada, consequently strengthening the local community infrastructure for the residents. Moreover, various business groups and organizations support the idea of community benefit agreements. The Toronto board of trade, the Vancouver board of trade, and the Montreal board of trade have already recognized community benefit agreements as a strong economic policy and an optimal way to confront youth unemployment.
Furthermore, a joint report from Mowat Centre and the Atkinson Foundation found that community benefit agreements have the ability to adopt a better environment for impoverished areas.
Ontario has already enacted CBAs, and other provinces such as Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Manitoba are also following suit. Moreover, other countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have already implemented CBAs in their respective infrastructure funds. Ultimately, CBAs would create the foundation for communities to achieve their fair share of federal infrastructure investments. Furthermore, it's about ensuring that future federal projects involving construction, maintenance, or repair would result in community benefits for millions of Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
I also put it to the committee that besides the tangible benefits of CBAs, they are a vehicle that would create an opportunity for the pursuit of dignity, and build the inner-being infrastructure of Canadians.
That is my submission. Thank you very much, and I'm prepared to answer any questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Welcome, Mr. Sangha.
Thank you for being here with us and for introducing Bill , which, for the most part, is the old . You do not need me to tell you that this is largely inspired by a similar bill in the Ontario legislature. I have to confess that I have a soft spot for bills that have only a few clauses and one main idea, bills that try to go right to the point.
In that spirit, may I ask you for some clarification about proposed paragraph 20.1(2)? It reads: “The Minister may, before awarding a contract for the construction, maintenance or repair of public works…”
Why do you not feel the need to say “the Minister shall…”? If the Minister “may”, he also may not, in which case, the entire spirit of the bill and all the results you are hoping for will never come to pass.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to build on what Mr. Fraser just pointed out, because I had the same questions.
The bill would give the minister “the authority to require an assessment” of community benefits, but these communities do not include—correct me if I'm wrong, Mr. Sangha—the thousands of communities across Canada that we would normally be targeting for federal infrastructure dollars, because it doesn't apply to some 3,700 municipalities across this country, whether it's the city of Brampton or the region of Peel or, in my riding, the town of Halton Hills or the region of Halton. The bill clearly states:
The Minister may, before awarding a contract for the construction, maintenance, or repair of public works, federal real property or federal immovables, require bidders on the proposal to provide information on the community benefits to be derived from the project.
It clearly excludes the vast majority of infrastructure projects across this country, the vast majority of which are under the control of either the provincial governments or local municipalities. I think we have to be clear here, as we're studying this bill, that it does not apply to municipally owned or provincially owned infrastructure. It applies only to federally owned infrastructure, such as federal government buildings across the country or federal ports that may be under the direct control of the federal government. It doesn't apply to bike paths, local roads, or other local municipal infrastructure.
I think that's a pretty important point to make. I assume that's the intent of the bill, because I think we'd get into all these problems with federal and provincial jurisdictional issues if we were to mandate that provinces or municipalities start assessing community benefits for their municipally owned or provincially owned projects.
That's the only point I wanted to make, building on what Mr. Fraser said.