New Brunswick

Saint John Water studying cause of west side pipe leaks

After receiving several calls from west side residents complaining about pipe failures seemingly caused by the new well-drawn water system, Saint John Water is launching an investigation to pin down the cause.

Residents complaining new water is causing leaks and burst pipes

Saint John Water is currently studying the link between its new South Bay Wellfield and west side pipe leaks. (Matthew Bingley/CBC )

After receiving several calls from west side residents complaining about pipe failures seemingly caused by the new well-drawn water system, Saint John Water is launching an investigation to pin down the cause.

As part of the city's water renewal program, west side residents were switched to water drawn from an underground aquifer in September. The change meant residents were forced to adjust to mineral-heavy, hard water.

Recently, many have starting complaining that the water is causing leaks in their pipes. Saint John Water has a theory about the issue, and is launching an investigation to confirm it.

At first, Doug Epton was upset about the switch because of the amount of sediment he was finding in his filters. Then, he returned to his lower west side home on Thursday to find a burst pipe.

Doug Epton came home to find his copper pipes were leaking. He's convinced the cause of the problem is the west side's switch to harder well water. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Epton is certain the problems are a direct result of the switch to the well water. The plumber he called told him the issue was likely caused by increased pressure on his older copper pipes, caused by the new water system.

The city's water commissioner Brent McGovern said the cause of the problem isn't the pressure.

"We do have a theory at this point, in terms of what is occurring," he said, but they don't know for sure.

McGovern said they think older pipes, with points close to failure, have a buildup of mineral scaling. The change of water chemistry caused by the switch the aquifer he said, likely caused scale buildup to dissolve resulting in leaks.

Saint John Water Commissioner Brent McGovern said the theory behind water issues is a chemical change in the water, resulting in scaling loss, leading to leaks in weak pipes. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

From the outset of the water renewal program, McGovern said consultants looked at the possibility of plumbing issues. But industry experts he said, ruled the risk was low. McGovern said the problem has taken them by surprise, which is why the city didn't warn residents about the risk.

Saint John Water is now partnering with Dalhousie University and CBCL Engineering to analyze corroded copper pipes to understand the issue. Results of the study are expected within the next couple of months.

McGovern said he expects the issues will only be a short-term phenomenon and said west side residents should be proactive by reviewing their plumbing.

Doug Epton is currently trying to figure out if he's going to spend the money to have his copper pipes replaced to stop potential leaks. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Epton is considering his options, including replacing his lines, which he said could cost between $5,000 to $6,000.

"If I did replace the lines, then that's great for me, it's proactive," he said. 

On Main Street nearby, Blaine Harris has already hired plumbers to replace the pipes in his barber shop.

Harris suffered three breaks in as many weeks, and decided it was time to solve the problem rather than ride it out. It cost him $5,000 to make the switch.

After suffering three leaks in as many weeks, west side business leader Blaine Harris swapped all of his old pipes. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Harris is also the executive director of the Saint John Lancaster Business Association. He said he's hearing from a lot of people facing the same problems he and Epton are.

"People's pipes are breaking," he said.

"We now have the cleanest water going, but it's now the hardest water we've ever had."

He said he's been disappointed by the city's response to the issue so far.

"The city water should have installed a water softener at the source," he said.

"We're already paying huge amounts of money for water."

Since the switch, McGovern said Saint John Water has received 103 calls related to the new water, out of 5,600 customers on the west side. Not all the calls have been negative, he said. 

He added that, given the amount of customers Saint John Water has on the west side, the volume of feedback has been quite low.