Lead in drinking water does not seem to be a major issue in the Cowichan Valley.
The Municipality of North Cowichan, the City of Duncan and the Cowichan Valley Regional District obtain most of their drinking water from the lower Cowichan River aquifer and the Chemainus River aquifer.
It’s widely known and reported that these aquifers, which are natural underground water reservoirs, currently provide an excellent quality water.
But a recent Toronto Star series on the dangers of lead in drinking water found that one-third of the 12,000 tests for lead in Canada since 2014 exceeded national safety guidelines.
The year-long investigation collected historic data from 11 major Canadian cities, and 120 journalists involved in the story also fanned out across 32 cities to test water, particularly in older homes.
They found 39 per cent of those homes exceeded national safety guidelines for lead content of five parts per billion.
Lead in drinking water can cause a variety of adverse health effects.
Children, infants, and unborn children are more strongly affected by exposure to lead because their bodies absorb lead more readily than adults.
Children’s brains and nervous systems are also more sensitive to the effects of lead.
Local governments in the Valley test the quality of their drinking water regularly, and lead is not considered a problem here in the local water systems.
Emmet McCusker, the City of Duncan’s director of public works and development services, said that in all the testing over the years on the city’s water system, city workers have never found lead in the water from Duncan’s wells or within its water distribution system in excess of the applicable federal and provincial guidelines.
He said the city regularly conducts a full chemical analysis of the drinking water every three months, and tests weekly for coliform and E.Coli.
“Specifically, the guidelines state 5.0 parts per billion as the maximum concentration of lead, while the measured quantity of lead [in the city’s water] is less than 0.2 parts per billion,” McCusker said.
“Although we have no reason to believe that lead in entering the system past the point of the wells, to address the recently expressed concerns, Duncan is currently undertaking lead testing at a central point in the city in order to confirm.”
Todd Etherington, superintendent of utility operations for the CVRD, said that all 19 of the CVRD’s water systems have undergone a full spectrum analysis “which test for everything from A – Z” in its water, and all systems owned and operated by the CVRD meet the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines for lead.
“This being said, the service lines and interior plumbing that distribute water throughout older homes may have lead concentrations due to corrosion in pipes, fixtures and solder,” Etherington said.
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said that while lead may be of some concern in other communities, there is no cause for concern in the municipality.
He said each of North Cowichan’s three water systems — Crofton, Chemainus and the south end — are tested quarterly and have never exceeded the Canadian Drinking Water Standard for lead going back to 2009.
However, Siebring said that while the water tested in North Cowichan’s systems is verifiably safe, water in residents’ homes could test differently, depending on the makeup of pipes, soldering materials and fittings in their homes.
“If any of these items contain lead, there is always a possibility that residents could have higher traces of lead in their household supply, but that would have nothing to do with the quality of the water we supply them,” he said.
Robyn Gray, superintendent of the Cowichan Valley School District, said the district believes a safe source of drinking water is crucial, and stringently follows the recommended testing protocols in the district for lead content in water.
“In 2016, when these initial requirements were put in place, our district responded by testing all schools in the first year versus only the required one-third,” Gray said.
“This has permitted us to ensure that all our schools have safe drinking water supplies. Where any concerns were found, we addressed those on an individual basis ensuring we met the stringent requirements set out by the province.”