City of Winnipeg's lead control programs
Water quality testing program
The City of Winnipeg launched a targeted water quality testing program in August 2019 that offered free water quality testing for residents who have lead water pipes, as the Government of Canada has recently reduced the allowable lead level in drinking water to 0.005 mg/L or less.
In 2019, we conducted water quality tests at a minimum of 200 locations across the city, as per our annual requirement mandated by the Province of Manitoba's Office of Drinking Water. The initial response to our call for volunteers exceeded our annual requirement. However, we are continuing to collect the names of volunteers on a waitlist for next year's round of testing.
Please note that the City of Winnipeg does NOT go door-to-door to offer water testing.
In June 2000, the City began adding orthophosphate to the water supply to control lead levels for homes in Winnipeg that have lead pipes, solder or fixtures after carrying out research and pilot testing for more than a year.
How does orthophosphate reduce lead levels in the water?
Orthophosphate works by forming a protective coating inside water pipes. This coating helps reduce corrosion that can add lead to the water supply. We add orthophosphate in small amounts in the form of food-grade phosphoric acid. Phosphoric acid is a clear, odourless liquid. It is found in many popular food products, such as soft drinks.
You would need to drink more than 100 glasses of tap water to get the same amount of phosphoric acid that you would get in one glass of most colas.
Do you monitor lead levels in the water?
Yes. We monitor lead levels in the water using:
- A lead loop piping system designed to replicate a lead water service to a home or building
- A volunteer sampling program with homeowners who have lead pipes serving their homes
- Routine water quality testing to monitor water quality changes within the distribution system and the quality of water delivered to customers.
Winnipeg water is intensively monitored on a routine basis to ensure that the water is safe and that regulatory requirements are met.
How much orthophosphate do you add to the water?
We add orthophosphate at a rate of 2 mg/L.
Does orthophosphate change the chemistry of the water?
Yes, a little. As we add orthophosphate to the water, the pH drops about 0.1 units below normal. This means that the alkalinity is reduced by less than 2 parts per million.
What is the annual cost of adding orthophosphate to the water supply?
It costs about $200,000 annually to operate the Orthophosphate Program.
Why did you select orthophosphate?
We selected orthophosphate because it is safe and economical. It is the most efficient way to reduce lead to levels below the national guideline. The program was approved by both Manitoba Health and Manitoba Conservation. It follows the Public Health Act. Several cities in the United States and Canada use orthophosphate to control lead in tap water.
Are there any other benefits to adding orthophosphate to the water?
The protective coating inside the water pipes extends the life of household plumbing and water-using appliances, such as hot water tanks.
Do you monitor the impact of the orthophosphate program on the environment?
Yes. Much of our water supply ends up as wastewater at the three sewage treatment plants. Here it is treated and released to the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. Since we started the orthophosphate program, results of wastewater tests show:
- The phosphorus levels haven't changed much at the South End and West End plants
- The phosphorus levels are about 14 per cent higher at the North End plant
- The phosphorus levels have decreased about 8 per cent in biosolids
- The lead levels have decreased about 37 per cent in biosolids
Where can I get more information on Winnipeg's water?
If you would like more information on Winnipeg's water, check out the other information on our web site or contact us.
Lead pipe replacements
Any time we are replacing a water main or fixing a leak on City-owned lead pipes that connect to a water main, we replace all City-owned lead pipes with lead-free pipe. We also provide property owners with the opportunity to replace their part of the water pipe when we're doing a water main renewal, so they can benefit from any potential cost savings.
What is the responsibility of homeowners with water pipes?
You own the water pipe from your home up to the shut-off valve (usually at your property line).
What is the responsibility of the City of Winnipeg with water pipes?
We own the water pipe from the shut-off valve at the property line to the water main.
How do homeowners replace their lead pipes with the City is doing a water main renewal?
We will advise you if we are replacing our part of the lead pipe leading to the shut-off valve. You may wish to replace your part of the pipe at the same time.
If you decide to replace your part of the pipe while we are replacing ours:
- You must use a water contractor licensed by us. They must get a water connection service permit
- We will then fill the hole and restore the surface as part of our work
- You will have to pay all other costs of replacing the water pipe on your property
How do homeowners replace their lead pipes at any other time?
If you decide to replace your part of the pipe at another time, you must:
- Hire a water contractor licensed by us.
- They must get a water connection service permit.
- Pay all costs of replacing the water pipe on your property.
- Contact us so that we can determine if the City portion of the water service is lead.
- If it is, we will replace our part of the pipe as our schedule permits. We will pay for this work.