A Saint John councillor is questioning whether a new $220-million water treatment system will actually give the city clean water because of the network of aging, underground pipes.

Saint John is considering a public-private partnership that would build a new water treatment system in the city.

Coun. Bill Farren said residents need to understand the new water treatment facility itself will not lead to better water.

si-nb-bill-farren-220

Coun. Bill Farren said a new $220-million water treatment facility will not guarantee clean drinking water if the problem of the city's aging water pipes is not addressed also. (CBC)

"Once we get the treatment plant in place, that doesn't necessarily mean we're going to have safe, clean, drinking water," Farren said.

"We've got that 140-year-old pipe out on Rothesay Avenue that broke a couple of weeks ago. How many of those are still in the ground and what kind of residue comes off of those?"

Old water pipes are the big problem, according to a recent report from the American Water Works Association.

The group's report estimates that U.S. communities will need to shell out about $500 billion over the next 25 years just to replace decrepit pipes.

Tom Curtis, the association's deputy executive director, said aging pipes in communities across the United States are a growing concern for the organization.

Curtis said old pipes can also leak, wasting increasingly expensive treated water.

But the association’s executive director said there is another concern.

Curtis said old pipes can absorb contaminants from the ground around them.

"Any water that's untreated that happens to surround the buried pipe and allow that into the distribution system, that's a serious health concern that's got to be addressed immediately," he said.

Farren said he's also concerned Saint John’s pipes may carry contaminants and will have to be replaced eventually.

"So, I think that's the easy answer, the harder answer is finding the money and the time to do it," he said.

Farren has placed a motion on Monday night’s Saint John council agenda. If passed, it would ask the water department staff to detail how much of Saint John's water piping needs to replaced, at what cost, and how much that will that add to future water bills.

Farren said the motion will likely be tabled on Monday for discussion at a future meeting.