Some Saskatoon homeowners will be soaked for thousands of dollars because of a change to city policy that will force them to do away with lead water pipes.

Up until Monday, homeowners had the option of keeping the lead pipes that connect their abodes to the city's water supply.

But a new study showing elevated risks of lead poisoning when the city conducts work on water lines has prompted officials to mandate that all homes remove the problem plumbing.

The study, conducted by the American Water Works Association, shows that lead levels can spike "substantially" when city crews replace old pipes and then re-attach the new ones to homes which still have lead pipes connecting them to the city's main line.

Officials are proposing a cost-sharing pipe replacement program that will see up to 6,000 homeowners fork over a maximum of $2,000 plus GST each to go lead-free. The city will pay the rest, according to documents filed with the municipal government.

The total cost of the pipe replacement varies between $5,200-$6,000. Homeowners will be expected to pay 40 per cent.

The work will be done as the city continues to replace the old water lines built prior to the 1950s. Alternately, people will be allowed to hire a contractor of their own to perform the work.

Payment options

The city indicates that it will not demand the money from affected homeowners up front. It will also provide people the option of having the replacement charges attached to their 2011 property tax bill.

City spokesman Mike Gutek said officials are simply trying to protect people's health.

"It's nobody's fault. We are in this together. Unfortunately we have lead pipes," Gutek said. "The disruption is causing the risk of elevated lead levels, therefore we are mandating that the whole connection be replaced for the safety and health of everyone," Gutek said.

While the policy shift will immediately affect 90 homeowners on 8th Street, the city said it could be years before all water pipes in the city are free of lead.