Mayor says comparing Regina's water to Flint, Michigan's is 'unfair'

Regina mayor Michael Fougere is taking issue with a series of news reports comparing lead levels in city tap water to those in Flint, Mich.

Fougere said Tuesday that the City of Regina's water is safe to drink for the most part, with 95 per cent of homes receiving water getting it lead-free.

"I think it's unfair to compare us directly to Flint. It's superficial — it makes an easy comparison to explain why. I don't think the comparison is fair," Fougere said. 

The level of lead deemed appropriate by Health Canada is 0.005 mg/L. but some Regina residents have tested several times higher than the appropriate levels set by the agency.

"It doesn't minimize the issue where we have the problem but some of the reporting seems to indicate indirectly that it is a city wide problem," he said Tuesday, acknowledging that lead contaminated water is a serious problem. 

The problem arises in homes built in the 1950s and 1960s and the material used to connect to the city's water, Fougere said. The private side of the line is the homeowner's responsibility.

The city is offering free water testing and to replace water filters for a year. In the case of rental properties, Fougere said landlords should be ensuring the problem is remedied if it is exists.

A collection of 2,600 tap water samples from Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw revealed that these Saskatchewan cities have some of the highest measured levels of lead-tainted water in Canada, according to an investigation led by Concordia University's Institute for Investigative Journalism.

The investigative report also found "some of those are comparable and in some cases higher than those found in Flint, Michigan at the height of its water crisis in 2015." 

The mayor added that city administration is looking at ways to accelerate the modernization of affected homes in the city. More details will be released in the near future.

Only about 30 per cent of people who received notification from the city about possible lead contamination responded to the city, which the mayor said is not good enough.

There is no timeline or direct cost estimate immediately available, but if the city were continuing to replace lead connectors at its current pace, it could take decades.

Fougere said the city is working to develop a way to post testing results on its website but there's no timeline for that either.

A city spokesperson said replacing each lead service connection costs the city about $10,000 to $15,000.

"In 2019, we've spent $1.5 to 2 million including replacements, filters and testing, with replacements making up the bulk of that amount," the spokesperson said in an email.