Banff Drinking Water Testing Program
Our water is safe and clean
Protecting public health by providing clean and safe drinking water is the Town of Banff’s most important priority.
We test our drinking water regularly and meet or perform better than all provincial and federal guidelines. The water the Town of Banff provides is very high quality and is safe to drink. Our water is drawn from an underground aquifer surrounded by mountains.
New Health Canada Guideline
In March 2019, Health Canada announced a new guideline for drinking water quality in Canada. Two of the major changes are:
- Reduction of the maximum acceptable concentration of lead in drinking water from 10 μg/L (micrograms per Litre) to 5 μg/L.
- Requirement to complete testing at the tap from within a customer's home or business, instead of testing it at the property line (which was the previous requirement).
The new guideline benefit public health and aligns with our efforts to reduce lead exposure from drinking water as much as possible.
Lead is rarely found in drinking water in Banff. The only way for traces of lead to be found in the water is for it to be picked up in the water pipes. The water coming from the aquifer has low acidity and low temperature, resulting in low risk of lead particulate entering drinking water from potential lead pipes in the system.
Due to this new standard for allowable traces of lead implemented by Health Canada, in 2021 the Town of Banff sampled water from more than 60 homes in Banff, as part of a province-wide program. There were only three instances of detecting lead in drinking water and the homeowners were provided water filtering systems. In 2022, we expect direction from the Government of Alberta about programs to replace any public water infrastructure that contains lead.
Lead in water - old pipes may be an issue
Lead service connections on private property was used for a short time period in some locations in Canada, during the Second World War when copper was not readily available. This was not typically the case in Banff, but some older homes built before 1960 may have had lead lines or fixtures used, depending on the builder. We believe there are a small number of homes that could have lead service lines and fixtures on private property.
For this reason, the Town is contacting specific property owners to schedule water sampling from the kitchen tap and testing for lead levels in drinking water between May and September 2021. This assessment is being conducted with specific direction from the Government of Alberta. All results are shared with the property owner and the Government of Alberta.
If we do find a home that has elevated levels of lead we take action right away to ensure the drinking water is safe. We provide a commercially available filtration unit.
The Town is not able to provide testing of your household water. However, residents may independently obtain water testing from a commercial lab and pay for the testing. A list of accredited labs can be found on the Canadian Association for Laboratory Accreditation (CALA) website.
Assessing water lines in your home
To determine what your in-home service lines are made of, follow these three steps:
Step 1: find your emergency water shut-off valve
Once you find your emergency water shut-off valve or water meter in your home (usually in the basement), check the colour and hardness of the pipe.
Step 2: check the pipe colour
Check the colour of the pipe coming out of the ground and into the meter. You may have to lightly sand the surface of the pipe. If the pipe is:
- The colour of a Canadian penny: It's copper.
- Bright blue or black: It's likely plastic tubing (polyethylene). Important: Don't attempt to test the hardness of your pipe if you suspect it's plastic.
- Grey: It's galvanized iron or lead.
Step 3: check the pipe hardness
If you think your water service line could be lead, try gently etching into the pipe with a screw driver. Lead is relatively soft metal and scratches easily, and may appear shiny. Do not attempt this if you think the line could be plastic. A licenced plumber can help determine the material used in your home. Please note that every pipe is a little different. The only way to be sure if you have lead is to have your water tested.
Remember, you cannot see, smell or taste lead in water. Laboratory testing of water from the tap is the only way to determine the lead levels in your drinking water.
How to Limit Exposure to Lead
The following preventative steps can be taken to limit possible exposure:
- Flush your pipes daily: flush standing water in your pipes each morning by letting the water run for a period of time, about 3 minutes. This ensures fresh water is drawn directly from Banff’s water distribution system before you use it.
- Conservation Tip: Use flushed water for non-potable purposes such as watering plants.
- Use cold water: use cold water for drinking, cooking or preparing baby formula. Hot water is more likely to leach minerals or metals from the plumbing. Please note that boiling water does not remove lead from the water.
- Have plumbing inspected: have a licensed plumber determine whether your home contains lead solder, lead pipes or pipe fittings. The presence of these materials does not mean lead is in the water, but rather that there is the potential for lead to be in the water. If a plumber determines there is potential for lead in your water, contact Water Services.
- Use water filters: consider the use of an approved filter. Filters with NSF 53 certification are independently proven to reduce lead concentrations and come in a variety of formats such as pitcher filters, tap mounted filters and built-in filters. Our local hardware store should have units and filters available.
- Hire professionals: if installing water treatment systems such as water softeners or filtration devices, make sure you have the installation done by a certified plumber.
- Take note of construction in your area: ground disturbance from construction has the potential to disturb the service line on private property and temporarily increase lead levels in your tap water. If construction is taking place in your neighbourhood, be sure to follow the preventative measures outlined above.
- Water Quality Testing: The Town is not able to provide testing of your household water at this time. Residents may independently obtain water testing from a commercial lab and pay for the testing. A list of accredited labs can be found on the Canadian Association for Laboratory Accreditation (CALA) website or ask your plumber.
Health Effects of Lead Exposure
Lead can cause serious health problems if too much enters the body from drinking water or other sources. Lead is most dangerous for pregnant women, infants, and children under six years old. Exposure to high levels of lead during pregnancy contributes to low birth weight and developmental delays in infants. In young children, lead exposure can lower IQ levels, affect hearing, reduce attention span, and hurt school performance. At very high levels, lead can even cause brain damage.
It is important to remember that the risk of lead exposure is extremely low; however, the impacts can be high. For this reason, it is important to determine what your home’s service lines and plumbing are made of, implement preventative measures if you have a home built before 1960, and get drinking water tested at the tap.
Replacing Lead Service Lines
The Town of Banff is waiting for further direction from the Alberta government for next steps in their lead mitigation strategy. The Town will be investigating public lines to determine if any lead lines exist in the oldest neighbourhoods. Homeowners are encouraged to remove any accessible lead lines found within their property.
The Town is responsible for the water service line that extends from the water main up to the homeowner's property line.
All pipes, solder and fittings on private property are the responsibility of the property owner. The figure above demonstrates the delineation between the public and private side.
For more resources and information about the low risks of lead drinking water, consult the following:
- Alberta Health Services - Lead Frequently Asked Questions
- Alberta Environment & Parks - Guidance Document for Managing Lead in Municipal Drinking Water Systems in Alberta
- Health Canada - Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality - Lead
- Town of Banff Water Quality Testing – Distribution System (PDF)