The water from your tap is delivered through a complicated network of underground piping, and a tremendous amount of work—from regular repairs to sample testing—goes into ensuring that it stays clean and efficient. But just how complicated of a network is it? And just how much work is required to maintain it? Here are five things you should know:
1. Some of Toronto’s water mains are over 100 years old
Among Toronto’s 4,600 kilometres of water mains, 6.5 per cent are over a century old and 17 per cent are over 80—far beyond their estimated service life of 55 years, according to Toronto Water. Old, corroded water mains more easily break and can cause flooding, as we saw in Union Station flood last month. The City deals with about 1,300 water-main breaks per year; to remedy this, the Water Main Rehabilitation Program replaces an average of 100 km of Toronto’s old water mains every year.
2. New water meters are coming to every home and business
The City of Toronto is currently working on replacing all water meters in homes and business with automated meters. The new meters will track consumption more accurately, and residents currently on a fixed-rate plan will be charged according to their usage.
“This new metering program will also help us detect water loss such as leaks, pipe breaks, and open hydrants more quickly,” says Alex Marich, director of operational support for Toronto Water. “The automated system will also help us get real-time water consumption data, while eliminating the need for staff or homeowners to manually obtain meter readings, all of which will result in saving water and operational costs.”
3. That charming old house you live in? It may have a lead water pipe
Lead, a toxic heavy metal, was commonly used in plumbing pipes until the Ontario plumbing code was updated in the 1950s to eliminate it; as such, houses built prior to then may still have a lead water-service pipe. These can be replaced through the Priority Lead Water Service Replacement Program; residents can request the City to upgrade the public side of the lead water service within 12 weeks of replacing their private portion. (The property line of a home divides the service area into private and public halves.)
4. Drinking water is constantly tested
Toronto’s tap water is clean and safe. To ensure it stays that way, drinking water is forever being tested by automatic analyzers for over 300 different pollutants according to Ministry of Environment (MOE) guidelines.
“Toronto Water continually monitors water quality and meets and often exceeds MOE requirements and regulations. We work very closely with Toronto Public Health to ensure the ongoing safety of Toronto’s drinking water,” said Michael Lukich, manager of Toronto Water Laboratory.
5. Toronto’s drinking water contains fluoride—and, yes, it’s totally safe
Since 1963, Toronto Water has added fluoride to the water supply. The sole reason for this is to prevent tooth decay, not to ensure quality. Flouride is toxic in large doses, but the City can use it if the concentration is below Health Canada’s safety limit of 1.5 mg/L.
Flouridation “reduces incidents of tooth decay by 18 to 40 per cent,” according to Kris Scheuer of Toronto Public Health. “The results of Canadian and international studies confirm that water fluoridated at optimum levels does not cause adverse health effects.”