Do it right or do it twice.
That’s the situation that the City of Brandon finds itself in, as it tries to dig plastic water pipes out of the ground and replace them with longer-lasting copper.
Meanwhile, nearly a year after elevated lead levels were found in some Brandonites’ drinking water, the city is also trying to cope with a plan to eventually replace all of their lead water pipes — something they’ve budgeted hundreds of thousands of dollars for.
It’s dismaying that the city is also having to redo their lead pipe replacement program, after a miserly approach to foist most of the cost onto individual homeowners got absolutely no takers.
As we reported in yesterday’s paper, city council will have an opportunity this year to revamp the program. In its first incarnation, homeowners were expected to pay for the costs of replacing lead pipes on their own side of the property line, plus half of the costs on the city’s side of the line.
It may be fair to ask homeowners to bear some of the burden — they will be the most direct beneficiaries of the replacement, after all — but it’s not fair to ask them to pay for three-quarters of the cost, including half of the city’s share.
We urge council to revise this program as soon as possible as the high costs of replacement are currently scaring many people away. It’s unfortunate that a golden opportunity to replace many lead pipes along the 400-block of Fifth Street was missed last year during a complete reconstruction of that street.
It would even be, we think, fair for the city to offer to find ways to make it even more affordable for people who would like to drink lead-free water, but who can’t scrape together the thousands of dollars it would take to finance the upgrades.
Perhaps council will consider a first-come, first-serve subsidy, like they did in 2011 for low-flow toilets. Or perhaps they could take a page from Manitoba Hydro’s energy efficiency programs, and swallow the upfront cost of the pipe replacements, while allowing the homeowner to pay it back over the next decade or so — maybe as a fee tacked on to property taxes.
Following the furor last year when it was revealed that provincial testing had found too much lead in some Brandon water, nearly 600 people have had their water tested (the city is partly subsidizing those tests). More than one-in-10 found lead levels that are higher than the provincial standard.
Although that’s alarming — especially for those directly affected — we are somewhat relieved that nearly 90 per cent of the tests have come back in the safe level.
Even low-level exposure to lead has been found to cause permanent intellectual impairment. Some studies estimate that childhood exposure to lead may cause you to drop 2.6 IQ points. Another researcher says that the switch to unleaded gasoline in the United States has raised the average IQ by a full six points.
Lead affects brain function in many ways. Some, admittedly controversial, research apparently shows that unleaded gasoline can be thanked for the amazing drop in crime over the past few decades.
The benefits from digging up lead pipes and replacing them with safer alternatives will be less dramatic. But no less worthwhile.
We believe that it is time for the city to take a more active role in replacing lead water pipes.
We note that earlier this month, councillors voted to add an extra $500,000 to the 2014 budget, allocating it generically to “infrastructure.” This would be a worthy area in which to spend that money.