Quebec City to invest $50M over 10 years to replace lead pipes

The city has laid out the details of its action plan, which will require spending $300,000 simply for testing for lead and another $1 million in 2020 to begin replacing the lead pipes.

City taking 'proactive approach' by making lead testing mandatory on all buildings built before 1980

Quebec City officials estimate they will have to replace lead pipes in 8,000 households over the next decade. (CBC)

Quebec City will be replacing approximately 8,000 intake pipes in its municipal water system over the next decade, to get rid of lead pipes that were used in the construction of commercial and residential buildings.

The city has laid out the details of its action plan, which will require spending $300,000 this year simply for testing for lead and another $1 million to begin replacing the lead pipes.

The city's executive committee said it is taking "a proactive approach" by making lead testing mandatory on all buildings built before 1980.

Last fall, the Quebec government announced it would introduce new standards to fall in line with the federal guidelines on lead levels in drinking water.

In March, Health Canada cut the acceptable concentration of lead from 10 micrograms per litre to five micrograms per litre.

Quebec City estimates there are around 80,000 households on its territory that were built before 1980, when the province's building regulations banned the use of lead pipes.

"We suspect that 9.5 per cent of water intakes could contain lead," said the city's chemist, Christine Beaulieu.

She said the water testing will take place between July 1 and Sept. 30, when water temperatures reach 15 C, and lead is easily detectable.

Buildings that date back to the period between 1945 and 1955 will be the priority, as that's when lead was commonly used in water systems.

Coun. Suzanne Verreault, the city's executive committee member in charge of waterworks, said she expects around 1,000 "interventions" will be carried out in 2020.

"It will be a year that will guide us to know how we have to proceed moving forward," Verreault said.

Mayor Régis Labeaume said co-ordinating the work will be "a massive undertaking," and will cost the city between $50 and $60 million over the next ten years.

Costs split between citizens and city

The city will foot the bill for lead testing in both private and public buildings and will absorb the cost of replacing pipes that are on public land.

If lead pipes are discovered on private property, however, homeowners will have to pay for the costs of replacing them.

Labeaume said the price tag can range between $5,000 and $15,000.

Since the city will be doing the work regardless, residents will be given the option of paying back the city over 10- to 15-year period.

The city said if lead is found is high concentrations, it will help households find temporary solutions to their tainted water while the replacement work is done.

Depending on the situation, that can range from letting the water run several minutes or installing filters to remove the lead. 

Montreal, which presented its own action plan last October, estimates it will cost approximately $557 million to replace more than 48,000 lead pipes by 2030.

With files from Radio-Canada