GRAEME BRUCE/BRANDON SUN
The City of Brandon began selling water testing kits on Monday following tests which found high levels of lead in certain areas of the city.
The City of Brandon handed out 81 water testing kits on Monday, following reports released last week of high lead levels in the water.
The city is selling the testing kits to affected homeowners for $20, and $45 to those who do not have lead services.
"Just because your house may have been built prior to 1950 doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed that you have a lead service," said Patrick Pulak, the city's deputy director of engineering. "If you do, it’s a matter of flushing the water or you can have a filter installed."
While the city isn’t currently offering a subsidy for filtration systems, Pulak said it’s not off the table.
"We need to first figure out how widespread is this issue, and then we’ll be in a better position to address whether we do finance filtration," he said. "Nothing’s off the table. It’s status quo until we get the information."
While Brandon is charging for testing kits, Winnipeg offers testing and results free of charge and has been "proactive" in reducing lead levels with an orthophosphate program implemented in 2000, which involves adding a chemical to the water to counter lead levels.
According to the City of Winnipeg, the orthophosphate program costs about $200,000 per year.
Brandon is looking at a similar program, and a study is underway to develop a master plan for water treatment, which should be drafted in March.
Many Canadian cities are faced with the same problem, each handling it differently. Regina and Saskatoon, for example, don’t offer free testing.
Neither does the City of Toronto, but it offers a faucet filter rebate of up to $100 for lower income families for homes where the municipality-owned portion of the water service line is made of lead which has yet to be replaced.
As the engineering department starts to get tests back, the department will develop its policy around replacing lead service lines.
Currently, the city will only pay for half of the service line going from the main line to the property line, but Pulak said he’ll be approaching city council in the coming weeks with possible plans for the city to take on all of that cost, adding it could be feasible even in the 2013 budget, while assuring it wouldn’t affect taxes.
While talking to residents, Pulak said most people aren’t in hysterics, and most people are well-informed about the situation.
"People are coming in pretty informed," he said. "There’s always going to be a core group of people that are going to push the panic button, but I think everyone’s taking it in stride."
The city should start seeing test results in the next seven days.
Water testing kits are available at the engineering department on the second floor of city hall.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 12, 2013