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Lead Pipe Replacement Program

Program updates coming in spring 2020

On September 25, 2019, Council approved updates to the Lead Pipe Replacement Program, including minor updates to its existing loan program, and two new enhancements that will be implemented by spring 2020:

Rebate option

A new rebate of up to $1,000 – approximately 20% of the pipe replacement cost – will be available to property owners with only a private lead water service pipe.

The rebate will address trenching and replacement costs, where the public portion of their lead water service pipe has been:

  • Replaced; or
  • Scheduled to be replaced within the next 2 years.

The cost of the private portion varies based on the length of the private lead water service pipe. The rebate will not address removal and replacement of items such as gardens, landscaping, decks, porches or interior work and finishes.

When the rebate option is implemented, applications will require, at a minimum:

  • A copy of the building permit/final inspection report for the work; and
  • An itemized invoice.

Filter kits

The City will offer impacted residents a reusable pitcher and approximately a one-year supply of NSF-53 certified water filters to remove lead from their drinking water while they wait for replacement of their lead water service pipe.

To qualify, impacted residents will meet one of the following criteria:

  • Lead levels exceeding 5 ppb; or
  • Participation in the loan option available under the Lead Pipe Replacement Program.

These enhancements will make the Lead Pipe Replacement Program more accessible to residents and will support the ongoing replacement of lead infrastructure.

Changes are expected to be in effect by spring 2020. Timelines on the availability of these new options will be provided as they become available.

Residents can call 3-1-1 to request a water quality test. For more information on keeping your tap water lead-free, please consult our frequently asked questions (FAQs). Further information is also available from Drinking Water Ontario.

Living in a home built before 1955?

Living in a home built before 1955? The Lead Pipe Replacement Program provides support to eligible residents with the replacement of the public and private portions of a residential property’s lead service pipe.

What is a water service pipe?

A water service pipe connects a building to the City’s municipal water supply. Property owners are responsible for the pipe up to their property line and the City owns and maintains the pipe from the property line to the water main.

How can I tell if I have a lead service pipe?

If your home was built after 1955, you do not have a lead service pipe. For older homes, the best way to determine if a service pipe is lead or copper is to scratch the service pipe with sandpaper to expose bare metal.

The only visible portion of the pipe is 50 cm in length, located between your basement’s concrete floor and the water meter. Lead pipes are dull grey in colour and are easily scratched by a hard object. Copper pipes are red-brown and corroded portions may show a green deposit.

Water meter with a lead service pipe

Residents can call 3-1-1 to request a water quality test. For more information on keeping your tap water lead-free, please consult our frequently asked questions (FAQs). Further information is also available from Drinking Water Ontario.

Apply to the Lead Pipe Replacement Program

The Lead Pipe Replacement Program provides support to eligible residents with the replacement of the public and private portions of a residential property’s lead service pipe.

Do I qualify for the program?

The following criteria is used to determine whether an applicant qualifies for the program:

  • The owner of the property must apply.
  • The City portion of the water service must be lead.
  • The property owner must agree to pay for the portion of the service replaced on their property.

If an area is scheduled for the City’s water main replacement program within the next two years, replacement of the water service pipe will be delayed to correspond with this construction activity.

Complete an Eligibility Assessment Form

Property owners interested in lead service replacement may also contact 3-1-1 to provide their information.

Please note: Families with children under the age of six and pregnant women are given priority for service replacement.

Next steps after application

After receiving an application, the City takes the following action:

Site review

The City reviews construction history, water main data and property information related to the service address to determine the likelihood that the City portion of the water service pipe is made from lead. The City will contact applicants by phone to advise them of their eligibility for the program.

Home inspection 

A home inspection will be scheduled to verify the presence of lead and to provide the property owner with an estimate of the replacement cost of the lead water service pipe.

Property owner commitment

Once eligibility is established, the property owner will be required to sign an agreement directing the City to proceed with the work. Property owners are given two weeks to commit to the program. Should the property owner not respond within two weeks, the opportunity for service replacement would be offered to another property owner.

Cost to the homeowner

The cost to the property owner varies depending on the length of the private lead water service pipe and does not include the removal and salvage of items such as furniture and fixtures, gardens, landscaping, decks, porches and interior work or finishes and the repair or replacement of these items upon the completion of the water service replacement. The homeowner is responsible for these costs.

Payment options

The City offers three payment options:

  • Full payment at the time of the work
  • Financing over five (5) years
  • Financing over ten (10) years

If the property owner finances the work through the City, the payment will be added to the property tax bill. The interest rate will be the City's debenture rate at the time of the debenture issuance. The exact rate will only be known a few weeks after the work is completed. The City's debenture rate is usually slightly higher than financial institution personal loan rates.

Do I qualify for the program?

The following criteria is used to determine whether an applicant qualifies for the program:

  • The owner of the property must apply.
  • The City portion of the water service must be lead.
  • The property owner must agree to pay for the portion of the service replaced on their property.

If an area is scheduled for the City’s water main replacement program within the next two years, replacement of the water service pipe will be delayed to correspond with this construction activity.

Should I also replace my sewer pipe?

Before the replacement of the lead service, the City will proceed with an inspection of the sewer pipe. If the sewer pipe is not in good condition, City staff and the property owner will discuss possible solutions on a case-by-case basis.

Can I withdraw from the program?

The property owner may withdraw from the program at any time. There is no charge for the initial site visit and pipe inspection. If the property owner has signed an agreement and wishes to withdraw, they will be charged an administration fee plus the cost of any completed work on their property.

I already applied for the program. When will I be contacted for an appointment?

Property owners eligible for replacement will receive a phone call from the City prior to the construction season to provide a date when their water service will be replaced. Waiting times vary depending on the homeowner’s priority for replacement and the time and date of their application.

I applied for the program last year but I have not received any follow-up. Should I reapply for the program?

No. Your application will remain on file and there is no need to reapply for the program if you already applied for the program.

Keeping your tap water lead-free

Is there lead in Ottawa's drinking water supply?

Drinking water supplied by the City is lead-free. However, trace amounts of lead can dissolve into drinking water during contact with your home’s lead pipes (including your water service pipe), brass fixtures, and lead solder. This may impact the safety of your tap water.

In most cases, lead concentrations in Ottawa’s tap water are well below the drinking water standard of 10 ppb (parts per billion), as established by the Province of Ontario. Typical concentrations are as follows:

  • 0 ppb leaving Ottawa’s water treatment plants
  • Less than 1 ppb for tap water in the majority of Ottawa homes (85%)
  • 1-5 ppb in older homes with lead water service pipes

In some homes, the lead concentration can be higher than 10 ppb, usually due to the length of the water service pipe connected to the home.

Please note: Due to increasing concerns about negative health effects in children, Health Canada has established a new maximum allowable concentration for lead in drinking water of 5 ppb. The Province of Ontario is currently reviewing its maximum allowable concentration of 10 ppb and will be implementing a revised Ontario Drinking Water Standard, although the timeline has not been determined.

What is a water service pipe?

A water service pipe connects a home or building to the City’s water supply. The City owns and maintains the portion of pipe running from the water main to the property line, while property owners are responsible for the portion running from the property line to the home or building.

Who is impacted by lead in drinking water?

Approximately 15% of homes in Ottawa were originally constructed with water service pipes made of lead. Lead pipes were used in home construction up until 1955 – after that, water service pipes were made of copper. If the original lead water service pipe has not been replaced there is the potential for small amounts of lead to dissolve into household tap water.  

Ottawa residents who live in homes built after 1955, as well as commercial and multi-residential properties are at little or no risk of lead exposure through tap water. 

How do I know if I have a lead water service pipe?

If your home was built after 1955, you do not have a lead water service pipe.   

For older homes, the best way to determine if a water service pipe is lead or copper is to examine the pipe as it enters your home. The visible portion of the water service pipe is approximately 50 cm in length and located between your basement’s concrete floor and your water meter. Lead pipes are dull grey and easily scratched by a hard object, as lead is a relatively soft metal. Copper pipes are red-brown and corroded portions may show a green deposit.

What is the current limit for lead in drinking water?

Due to increasing concerns about negative health effects in children, Health Canada has established a new maximum allowable concentration for lead in drinking water of 5 parts per billion (ppb). The Province of Ontario is currently reviewing its maximum allowable concentration of 10 ppb and will be implementing a revised Ontario Drinking Water Standard, although the timeline has not been determined.

The maximum allowable concentration of lead in drinking water aims to protect infants, young children and children in-utero who are most at risk of exposure to lead.

Should I be concerned about exposure to lead in drinking water?

Exposure to small amounts of lead is especially harmful for pregnant women and can have harmful effects on a child’s development.

Lead can be present in many environmental sources including soil, dust, food, air, and drinking water. Some household products such as jewellery, crystal, and ceramic pottery can also contain lead. Household dust and dirt often represent the greatest lead exposure for young children.

Although the lead contribution from tap water is generally low, it can be significant in some homes with lead water service pipes.

Visit Health Canada's website for more information on lead and human health, or contact Ottawa Public Health at 613-580-6744 (TTY: 613-580-9656), or by email at healthsante@ottawa.ca.

Is lead a concern in my children’s school or child care centre?

All schools, private schools and child care centres in Ontario are required to flush plumbing regularly, test water for lead annually, and take immediate action if levels exceed the Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standard of 10 ppb. As of July 2017, every drinking water fountain and any tap that provides drinking water or is used to prepare food or drink for children under 18 must be sampled for lead.

Ottawa Public Health ensures that schools, private schools and child care centres resolve lead-related drinking water issues and therefore comply with Ontario Drinking Water Standards. More information is available from the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation, and Parks (MECP).

Who is responsible for replacing water service pipes?

The water service pipe that connects to your home is composed of two portions: a public portion owned by the City from the municipal water main to the property line, and a privately-owned portion from the property line to the house. When a water main is replaced or upgraded, the City replaces the public portion of the lead service pipe with copper. Unless the homeowner pays to have their portion of the water service pipe replaced, it will remain as lead.

Is there assistance available to replace a lead water service pipe?

Property owners are encouraged to take advantage of the Lead Pipe Replacement Program if their home was constructed prior to 1955. If the water service on private property is made from lead, residents can choose to replace it at their cost, and the City in turn will replace the public portion of the service pipe at the City’s cost. The program gives priority to applications from families with young children or pregnant mothers.

Are commercial and multi-residential properties impacted?

No. Lead has never been used for larger diameter pipes required for connections to larger buildings, schools, or institutions. Stronger materials such as copper, iron, or plastic are used to supply water to these buildings.

What is the City of Ottawa doing to reduce the risk of exposure to lead?

The City takes the following actions to mitigate the risk of exposure to lead in tap water:

  • The City adjusts the water supply pH to 9.2 – 9.4 to minimize the amount of lead and other metals that can dissolve into tap water.
  • The City routinely monitors tap water lead concentrations in older homes through an extensive water sampling and testing program.
  • Although Ottawa’s water supply meets regulatory standards for lead in drinking water, City staff are evaluating alternative treatment options and strategies to further reduce lead in tap water.
  • The City will test your tap water for lead, free of charge. Call 3-1-1 for this service.

I live in a home with lead plumbing. What should I do to reduce the lead in my tap water?

To minimize lead exposure from tap water, residents are encouraged to:

  • Run their tap for approximately 2 minutes to flush stagnant water sitting in the service pipe prior to cooking or drinking. This can greatly reduce lead concentrations in your tap water. 
    • The cost of water is approximately 2 cents for a two-minute tap flushing.
    • Keep a fresh jug of flushed tap water in the refrigerator for use during the day. Ensure the jug or container itself is lead-free.
  • Call 3-1-1 to have their tap water tested for lead, free of charge.
  • Use a tap or pitcher-style filter to remove lead from tap water when used for drinking and cooking. Many water filters will sufficiently remove lead from tap water, but the City recommends a filter certified to the NSF/ANSI 53 standard for lead removal. Residents can complete an online search for an NSF-certified filter.
    • Tap faucets and fixtures used for drinking water should be certified to the NSF/ANSI 372 standard as lead-free.
  • Take advantage of the Lead Pipe Replacement Program to help with the replacement of a lead water service pipe.

Who can I call to test my water?

Call 3-1-1 to have your tap water tested. There is no cost for this service.

Will my home water filter remove lead from drinking water?

Most pitcher-style filters will reduce lead levels in your tap water to safe levels; however, it is recommended that the filter unit be certified to the NSF/ANSI 53 standard for the removal of lead. This information can be found on the label. You can complete an online search for an NSF-approved filter. It is important to change the filter cartridges as per manufacturer’s recommendations. The use of a reverse osmosis treatment system will remove lead completely.

Will boiling water remove the lead?

No. Boiling your water does not remove lead. If boiled, the lead concentration of the water can actually increase slightly as the water evaporates.

Why do I have lead in my drinking water if I have copper pipes, and I don’t have a lead water service pipe?

Lead may be present in solder used to join copper pipes as well as in brass used in the faucets and plumbing fixtures in your home. However, lead contributions from brass and lead solder are typically quite low (in the range of 1 ppb or less).

If I have a lead water service pipe, is it safe to wash dishes, clothing and shower?

Yes. Residue on clothing and dishes will not impact your health. Your skin will not absorb lead through bathing or showering. 

Is bottled water lead-free?

Bottled water comes from various sources and is subject to inspection by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency under the Food and Drugs Act. Generally, most brands of bottled water have low or non-detectable concentrations of lead. The lead concentration is typically displayed on the bottle. Specific questions and concerns should be addressed to the company directly.

Will lead in tap water affect my pet?

Lead poisoning in cats and dogs is extremely uncommon, particularly from water. Pets can be harmed by high levels of lead exposure from other sources, most commonly dust from lead paint during household renovations, or hobby-related materials that use lead, such as fishing tackle, stained glass or ceramics. If you are concerned about your pet’s health, contact your veterinarian for more information.

Who do I call if I have questions or concerns about my water quality?

Call 3-1-1 if you require additional information or have questions about keeping your tap water lead-free.