Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Lead Elephant in the Room

The local paper ran an opinion piece by one of its reporters this past week, in which he outlined his concerns about the continuing problem that the city has - that several hundred (at least) homes in the city still have lead water service connections, and that the assistance program that the city used to offer to help with their replacement is no longer available.  Then the next day, there was a letter from the councillor for the ward in which the reporter lives, which seemed to link street-oiling to lead water pipes (no connection), and suggested that the program had been dropped because my experience with it had been daunting.

So I thought that I would clarify my experience, and outline some things that the city should be doing, financial assistance or no financial assistance.

First, I agree with the premise of the column.  That this city still has unsafe water going to some of its residents is disgraceful and embarrassing.  That's bad enough, but the city does a terrible job of tracking this, or of informing residents of the problem, and what can be done about it.

Several years ago, when I first became aware of the problem, we were told that about a thousand homes were affected.  That's still the number that the city uses, and seven years have passed.  It would be helpful, and is totally within our capabilities, to keep a total of the number of houses that still have these connections, and track and report on when they are replaced.

When the pipes on a street are replaced, we fix the lead service connection on the city's side.  It is the homeowner's responsibility to replace the connections inside the house.  It would be simple matter to inform the residents on a street that this would be their opportunity to get their side fixed, but that doesn't happen, even though I have suggested this to administration.

We did have an assistance program several years ago that provided homeowners with $2000 to help with the costs of replacing the pipes on their property, and I was able to take advantage of that.  The worst part of getting the job done was finding a contractor willing to dig up just my yard - I found out about the lead service connection in 2008, the work was finally done in 2012.  But if an entire street was being done, perhaps that would make it more attractive to a contractor.

To me, this is the kind of thing that council should provide leadership on.  As a city council, we don't have control over much.  Our only source of revenue is property taxes.  And yet, there is much talk about plans to attract new business and industry, or new airlines.  How about instead we talk about how to improve the living conditions of the people who already live here - setting a plan to get all streets paved, and ensuring that all homes have safe drinking water - those things are totally within our control.  Instead, we think that building new and better recreational facilities that end up costing taxpayers more and more money is what will make this city great.

We're wrong.  We need to focus on the fundamentals, on what we can control.  That means keeping streets and sidewalks in good repair, providing safe drinking water, plowing streets in the winter, and ensuring that residents feel safe.

Oh, and if we wanted to bring back the assistance program for replacing lead water service connections?  At $2,000 per household, multiplied by the estimated 1000 homes - that's 2 million dollars - the same amount that one councillor is proposing that we spend on a new irrigation system for the golf course.  I know where my priorities are.  Sadly, I don't think that all members of council share these priorities.

"Excellence is achieved by the mastery of the fundamentals." - Vince Lombardi

No comments: