Charlottetown working hard to avoid what happened in Flint, Michigan

Dave Stewart dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on March 8, 2016

Charlottetown City Hall

The City of Charlottetown says it has taken precautions to ensure what happened in Michigan doesn’t happen here.

Flint, Mich., switched from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River in 2014 to save money.

State officials, in what they concede was an error, didn’t order Flint officials to treat the water with anti-corrosive chemicals. That caused lead to leach from aging pipes into some homes. If consumed, lead can cause developmental delays and learning disabilities.

Coun. Eddie Rice, chairman of Charlottetown’s water and sewer utility committee, said lead service piping was used throughout North America and isn’t unusual for municipalities to be dealing with.

Rice told The Guardian that less than 20 per cent of the original lead service pipes are still in use.

“That, in itself, is a good sign, not a perfect sign,’’ Rice said. “Our drinking water exceeds Health Canada standards. (Lead) pipes are used throughout North America, it’s a problem and an issue everywhere.’’

Rice said what bodes well for Charlottetown’s water system is that it has what is called ‘hard water’, which is water that has a high mineral content, not an uncommon issue.

“It coats our pipes and keeps us in a neutral situation and those are all positive things.’’

Craig Walker, manager of the utility, said the city doesn’t see a lot of corrosion on the interior of its water lines despite the fact that it is old.

“We have hard water in Charlottetown, which actually helps because it forms a mineral buildup, serving as a bit of a barrier or lining in our pipes,’’ Walker said. “This inhibits corrosion and cuts down on potential leaching from the pipes.’’

As an added precaution, the city monitors water quality and conducts tests regularly.

Rice is constantly bringing up the need to rehabiliate the system, that big dollars are needed. Most municipalities are faced with aging pipes and have turned to programs like Build Canada Fund to pay for it.

Rice said the city’s infrastructure is old and “we’re going to continue to see watermain breaks and other issues until our aging infrastructure is replaced, something that is going to have to become our primary focus once the sewer separation and well field project are complete.’’

The city has made progress in its water system replacement program since it began in 2001, which includes lead service pipe replacement. There are roughly 10,000 service pipe connections from the city’s watermains to customer properties. Less than 20 per cent are the original lead servicing pipes.

The lead servicing remains only in some of the downtown system, infrastructure that was built prior to 1952. It is being removed from the distribution system as watermains are replaced, leaks are detected and corrected, new building construction takes place or infrastructure renewal occurs.

Rice said he’ll be pushing hard for federal dollars.

“It needs to happen and I’m going to be driving that home. We have to get federal monies and get at rehabilitation.’’

With files from The Associated Press

dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/DveStewart