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Water Today Title October 25, 2021

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2021/10/6

TORONTO TAP WATER OVERVIEW

WT sent a series of emailed question to Toronto media. Our questions and their responses are below

Q&A

  • How would you describe Toronto city water and the main challenges it faces?
  • "The City of Toronto ensures that residents, businesses and visitors have access to clean, safe drinking water. This is done through a complex water treatment process and continuous testing so that water always meets or exceeds the Safe Drinking Water Act set by the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP). Toronto’s tap water is continuously tested, monitored and analyzed to ensure it meets the strict standards of Toronto Public Health, the Province of Ontario and Government of Canada, to safely and reliably provide drinking water to 3.6 million people." "Toronto Water has multiple priority actions over the next 10 years including:
    • Ensuring the continued and long-term investment in infrastructure renewal.
    • Managing the pressure on linear infrastructure in growth areas in Toronto
    • Planning for resources to implement, support and maintain new technologies
    • Long-term significant investment in the Toronto City Council approved Wet Weather Flow Master Plan projects to protect the environment and lake, river and stream water quality including $2.27 billion for the Basement Flooding Protection Program, completion of Environmental Assessments for all Basement Flooding Studies Areas by 2024; and, investing $1.3 billion over the 10-years to implement the Don River and Central Waterfront projects, with all project phases forecasted for completion in 2038. More information: " - William Fernandes, Director, Water Treatment & Supply, Toronto Water.

    1. How much processed water do you think leaks from pipes before its destination endpoint?

    In Toronto, unaccounted for water loss is approximately 10 per cent or less. The City of Toronto provides drinking water to 3.6 million people (residents businesses and visitors in Toronto and York Region) in a safe and reliable manner to protect public health. Safe drinking water is delivered through a continuous distribution network of more than 6,100 km of watermains and City-owned water services supplying approximately 435 billion litres annually. The average age of Toronto's watermains is 61 years (11 per cent are between 80-100 years; 13 per cent are more than 100 years).

    The City has implemented several programs to renew aging infrastructure and help to reduce water loss:

    • In December 2020, City Council approved a 10-year plan (2021 to 2030) with an investment of $2.2 billion in capital improvements that will contribute towards ensuring an overall good condition of the water distribution network.
    • In 2015, the City completed the replacement of more than 470,000 water meters in homes and businesses in Toronto (ahead of schedule and under budget). Water meters are a critical component to ensure operational efficiency.

    Over the past 10 years, the City has also made significant capital investments in infrastructure renewal projects (i.e. watermain replacement, cathodic protection and structural lining) of approximately 1,800 km watermains contributing to a gradual decline in watermain breaks and therefore water loss. In 2014, there were approximately 1,800 watermain breaks and through ongoing significant capital investment in infrastructure renewal projects in 2020 there were 681 watermain breaks. In Toronto, unaccounted for water loss is approximately 10 per cent or less and is associated with watermain breaks, flushing watermains for maintenance purposes (for example, regulated flushing prior to putting a newly constructed watermain back into service) as well as any leaks that may be in the system. Non-revenue water loss are known volumes of water that are used for parks for irrigation, firefighting, etc.

    To help residents and businesses track their own water use, the City of Toronto offers MyWaterToronto, an online tool that allows residents and property owners to track water use by day, week, month or year. The City also offers a number of programs and services to help businesses better manage their water use.

    1. Do the plants have any treatment for pfas, endocrine disrupters?

    In 2015, the City conducted a Water Quality Master Plan (WQMP) to determine treatment needs for its four drinking water treatment plants based on Lake Ontario water quality, anticipated future regulatory changes, emerging contaminants and existing treatment capabilities at its drinking water treatment plants.

    As part of the WQMP, a historic review of treated water data of endocrine disruptors was performed. Some compounds were detected at very low concentrations well below their respective regulatory maximum acceptable concentrations.

    PFAS

    Through the Drinking Water Surveillance Program undertaken by the Ministry of the Environment, Parks and Conservation in 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016, Lake Ontario source water and treated water samples from some of the City of Toronto's water treatment plants were collected and analyzed for various PFAS compounds including PFOA. Levels found in both the source and treated water were detected at levels substantially lower than the established guidelines and screening values (18 to 8300 times lower depending on the parameter). Furthermore, levels have remained somewhat stable over time.

    Treatment Capability

    Toronto Water regularly undertakes reviews of industry trends and water quality changes over time to determine if additional treatment is required to address changes and ensure that Toronto's tap water continues to meet and exceed all regulatory requirements. While PFAS and endrocrine disrupting compounds can be prevalent in some drinking waters, we are fortunate that they have been detected in extremely low levels in our water. As such, the implementation of treatment technologies to specifically address these compounds is not warranted at this time.

    1. Is there any lead in the water distribution system pipes?

    Lead is not found in the City's water distribution system pipes. Lead pipes affect residential homes. There are approximately 437,000 residential customers in the City of Toronto. Of these, it is estimated that approximately 23,500 contain City-owned lead water service pipes.

    This is significant decrease from previous assessments. In 2007, approximately 65,000 City-owned services were estimated to be lead. In 2014, a reassessment of the data records available provided an updated estimate of 38,000 public lead water services. At the end of 2020, there were approximately 23,500 public lead services remaining.

    Lead pipes affect residential homes. There are approximately 437,000 residential customers in the City of Toronto. Of these, it is estimated that approximately 23,500 contain City-owned lead water service pipes.

    In 2011, Toronto City Council approved the Lead in Drinking Water Mitigation Strategy, a multi-pronged approach aimed at protecting public health by reducing lead in drinking water. Components of the strategy include:

    The City of Toronto's Lead in Drinking Water Mitigation Strategy – Annual Report provides an annual update on the City of Toronto’s Lead in Drinking Water Mitigation Strategy. The 2020 report is available online.
    Past reports are also posted on the Tap Water Quality & System Reports web page

    Lead testing

    Homeowners in Toronto can submit a drinking water sample to be tested for lead levels free of charge at one of Toronto Water’s accredited labs. Find out how to get a lead testing kit and how it works.

    Corrosion control

    The City of Toronto has enhanced its drinking water treatment process to add phosphate, which forms a protective coating inside all pipes. Learn more about the City’s Corrosion Control Plan.

    Lead pipe replacement

    Each year, the City aims to replace 5,000 substandard water services pipes through the programs listed below. Many of these pipes will be lead.

    • Priority Lead Water Service Replacement Program: Residents that commit to replacing the private portion of a lead water service can apply to have the City replace its side on a priority basis.
    • Capital Water Service Replacement Program: The City replaces substandard drinking water pipes during planned construction projects, such as road, sewer and watermain work.
    • Emergency replacement: This occurs when the pipe that supplies water to a home is broken or has low flow.

    Faucet Filter Program

    Faucet filter distribution

    The City provides a free faucet filter for lead removal to homeowners whenever the City-owned portion of a lead water service is replaced. Toronto Public Health also distributes free filters to participants of the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program.

    Faucet filter rebate

    Residents that have lead pipes can apply for a rebate to help purchase an NSF-053 certified filter for lead removal and/or replacement cartridges if they meet all of the following criteria:

    1. There is child under six and/or a pregnant woman living in the home.
    2. The home is a single family, duplex or triplex building.
    3. The annual household income is less than $50,000.
    1. How would someone know if there was a boil water advisory?

    The City of Toronto has never had a boil water advisory.

    Boil water advisories are issued by the Medical Officer of Health. If there was a boil water advisory, the public would be immediately notified as per strict regulatory requirements.

    1. Can you explain in simple terms how the plants work?

    How treatment works:

    • Water is collected from Lake Ontario through intake pipes deep below the lake and one to five kilometres away from shore.
    • Lake water passes through screens to remove large debris and then through filters to remove additional impurities. Water is disinfected by using either chlorine or ozone.
    • Alum or Poly Aluminum Chloride is added to the water to form a jelly-like substance that joins larger particles called floc, and goes through additional filtration.
    • The water travels through settling basins so larger particles settle to the bottom. The clear water at the top proceeds to filters containing gravel, sand, and anthracite or carbon to remove suspended impurities and bacteria.
    • Before water is pumped for distribution to homes and businesses, the following is added:
      • chlorine to destroy bacteria, algae and viruses
      • fluoride to help prevent tooth decay
      • ammonia to ensure chlorine levels remain consistent as water travels through the distribution system
      • phosphoric acid, which is used for corrosion control to help create a barrier between residential lead pipes and drinking water: More information can be found online

    Toronto’s tap water is continuously tested, monitored and analyzed to ensure it meets the strict standards of Toronto Public Health, the Province of Ontario and Government of Canada.

    Toronto Water’s accredited lab:

    • tests drinking water every six hours (over 6,000 times a year)
    • conducts more than 20,000 tests at the water treatment plants annually
    • conducts 15,000 bacteriological tests on samples collected from the water distribution system annually
    • See the most recent drinking water quality and system reports submitted to the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.

    More information can be found online

    1. Given that Canadian cities have undertaken campaigns to inform their citizens that the water is clean and there's no need to buy plastic bottled water, should people be told how many bottling companies actually buy city water, it sort of defeats the purpose of public campaigns, should the price of processed water be much higher for those companies?

    Toronto's drinking water meets and often exceeds strict regulatory requirements. Safe drinking water is available in many cities around the world, unfortunately, people still choose to drink bottled water. Increasing the cost to companies using municipal tap water is a complex policy matter that should be considered by the provincial or federal government, not individual municipalities.

    Toronto Water provides water utility services to businesses that acquire the proper permits and comply with relevant legislation/by-laws. The City of Toronto does not require water business accounts to disclose their processes in relation to their water usage.

    1. How many cubic metres of combined sewage overflow was discharged in 2020, has this number declined? Are measures being contemplated to cope with the increase in extreme rain and snow events brought on by climate change?

    The City annually reports to Environment Canada the occurrence, duration and volume of Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO) at each of its 309 CSO locations. The City's annual CSO reporting is based on estimates from a computer model using measured rainfall data from April 1 to October 31. The City does not collect CSO data on a sewershed basis, such as the Lower Don and/or Taylor Massey Creek.

    Toronto Water is committed to dealing with the adverse impacts of stormwater (rain and melted snow) through the Wet Weather Flow Master Plan. The ultimate goal is to improve water quality and improve ecosystem health in our watersheds and along our waterfront. As part of this plan the City of Toronto will deliver the largest and most significant water quality improvement program in the city's history: the Don River and Central Waterfront program. With an overall budget of more than $3 billion, this program will greatly improve the water quality in the Lower Don River, Taylor-Massey Creek and along Toronto’s Inner Harbour by keeping combined sewer overflow out of our waterways through the upgrading of technology and capacity to capture, transport and treat it.

    Once fully implemented the program will virtually eliminate the release of combined sewer overflows into Lower Don River, Taylor-Massey Creek and Toronto's Inner Harbour. You can learn more about this important work here

     

    1. With more and more blue green algae outbreaks, is there a plan in place for this at the Toronto water works?

    As part of the Municipal Drinking Water License program managed by the Ministry of the Environment, Parks and Conversation, every municipality in Ontario is required to have a site specific harmful algal bloom plan. Toronto's harmful algal bloom plant outlines monitoring strategies for the presence of algal blooms, a response plan as well as training. During typical harmful algal bloom season (June to October), Toronto Water samples the raw and treated water for microcystin (regulated toxin produced by harmful algal blooms) on a weekly basis. The frequency is increased if microcystins are detected. Raw water algae quantification and speciation is also undertaken twice monthly from June to October.

    1. Now that there has been several major flood events, what do the water plants do if there's a major flood, shut down, change procedure?

    Vulnerability reviews have been undertaken at the drinking water treatment plants to assess their susceptibility to flood during major storm events. Where potential for flooding has been identified, additional measures have been put in place to reduce the potential including the construction of berms and additional sump pumps. If a treatment plant were to flood, it would be shut down and the remaining treatment plants would take up the production requirements from the facility that has been shut down. There is very good redundancy for treatment production capacity amongst all four water treatment plants and the distribution system is interconnected allowing for movement of water from one area of the distribution system to another.

    1. Two weeks ago there were several buildings downtown that had no water, due to pipe breakage this sort of thing, does the city have emergency potable trucks that could show up? it seemed bizarre that the entire building had to go and buy bottled water for two days.

    Without a specific address and any details it's challenging to respond. However, here are the steps the City takes in the event of a watermain break.

    Watermain breaks on City infrastructure are deemed emergencies. To repair a broken watermain a water shut-off is required that may impact multiple properties. All water shut-offs are carefully assessed and closely coordinated with the customers so they are aware of the timeframe for the repair. There are strict regulatory requirements and operating procedures in place to advise each property of the emergency repair and water shut-off. As well, there are multiple steps to repair a watermain including acquiring locates to ensure there are no other utilities impacted (gas lines, etc.), safe excavation, repairing the break, ensuring safe water quality, etc. Watermain breaks are normally repaired in under eight hours. From time-to-time there are issues that unexpectedly occur requiring a longer repair time. In these case we do provide bottled water and in some circumstances we can provide the water trailer. There are significant logistics and regulatory requirements required to set up the water trailer, most importantly, we need a safe potable water source (for example, a fire hydrant). Additionally, we need a convenient location for the water trailer as people may be using large containers to carry water and, due to the size of Toronto, it can take time to get the trailer from storage to the location and set it up. These logistics take time to coordinate and each situation is carefully considered. (The trailer does not arrive at a site with water – it requires a water source.) 

    1. What's the single biggest challenge Toronto water will face in the coming decade, most people will default to climate change, I'm curious how Toronto water will be dealing with it, and what challenges could be part of that.

     

    Toronto Water has multiple priority actions over the next 10 years:

    • Ensuring the continued and long-term investment in infrastructure renewal.
    • Managing the pressure on linear infrastructure in growth areas in Toronto
    • Planning for resources to implement, support and maintain new technologies
    • Long-term significant investment in the Toronto City Council approved Wet Weather Flow Master Plan projects to protect the environment and lake, river and stream water quality including $2.27 billion for the Basement Flooding Protection Program, completion of Environmental Assessments for all Basement Flooding Studies Areas by 2024 and investing $1.3 billion over the 10-years to implement the Don River and Central Waterfront projects, with all project phases forecasted for completion in 2038. More information on these projects can be found here: ca/drcw project


    Links to City of Toronto information:

    Tap Water in Toronto
    Tap Water Quality & System Reports
    Lead & Drinking Water