The City of Calgary’s public water service lines map, published in June 2020. Pictured is the central Calgary neighbourhoods Rosedale and Crescent Heights, which are spattered with dark red lines, denoting public lead service connections. PHOTO: NOEL HARPER/CITY OF CALGARY

Calgary homeowners and renters alike are able to find out what their water pipes are made of, thanks to a new interactive map published by the City of Calgary.

The city’s Public Water Service Lines map provides information about the public portion of a water line — which falls within the city’s jurisdiction — but not for the private side, which is managed by the property owner. 

“The city’s Open Data portal is provided in the spirit of openness, accountability, and transparency,” reads a statement from Sheila Johnstone, media relations for the city.

Residents can type in their address and see what material makes up the public service line that brings water to their property from the city’s water mains. Once it is typed in, information about the material type will appear, along with installation data information and pipe diameter.

The map is included within the ‘lead and water service lines’ section of the city’s water services webpage, several clicks away from the City of Calgary homepage.

Oki. We are grateful to live and work in the traditional territories of the Niitsita’pi and the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta, which includes the Siksika, Piikani, Kainai, Tsuut’ina and the Iyarhe Nakoda. The Blackfoot name of this place where the Bow River meets the Elbow River is Moh’kins’tsis, which we now call Calgary. The city is also home to the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3.

To use the public water services lines map, click the link posted above. Once there, click ‘search’ at the top left corner of the map and type in the desired address. 

Once the map navigates to the address, hover over the colour-coded line shown at the pinpointed address for information about the pipe, including material type and when the line was installed. The colour of the line identifying the property can determine the material, per the legend in the bottom right corner of the map.

Lead — which is designated as a dark red colour on the map — is a material of concern. It is a health hazard, especially for children and pregnant women. For addresses showing a lead service line on the map, the city normally contacts these residents via a posted letter inviting them to participate in the Tap Water Sampling Program — with the exception of this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As part of its open data portal, the City of Calgary published a map indicating the material that a property’s public water service line is made from — particularly if it is made from lead, as 550 known lines within the city are. PHOTO: PIXABAY

However, if a resident did not receive information about the program, they are encouraged to call 311 and ask for water testing, a subsidy for water filters or a lead line replacement, per the city’s website.

Instructions on how to use the water line map — and the health implications of materials such as lead — are not included on the city’s website. 

“The Public Water Service line map is a part of the City’s Open Data Portal and is not

intended to provide information about water quality,” according to a statement from the city’s water utilities department.

A brief overview of the health effects of lead can be found in an Alberta Health Services document and under Health Canada’s Guidelines, which is linked at the bottom of the city’s lead and water service lines webpage.

Other types of material that a public water service line could be made from include copper, ductile iron, polyvinyl chloride, cast iron, galvanized iron and asbestos cement, per the map’s legend. There are also water lines of “unknown” and “other” materials, all of which are identified by a different colour on the map. 

The map was first published in June 2020, and as of this publication has been viewed 578 times.

About Watered Down

Watered Down, produced by the Calgary Journal, is a follow-up series to 2019’s Tainted Water investigation, which coordinated reporting at universities and media companies from across the country. The investigation found that many Canadian municipalities — including Calgary — were not tackling the issue of lead aggressively.

In Calgary, the Mount Royal University Journalism and Broadcast Media Studies department teamed up with reporters from Global News and the Star Network. Their investigation showed that the drinking water of some Calgary residents exceeded national guidelines for lead. It also found that the City of Calgary did not have complete records of the materials used to construct public water service lines and that the city had not adequately communicated with residents about the risks of lead consumption.

The Tainted Water investigation is nominated for the Michener Award, Canada’s top journalism prize dedicated to “meritorious public service journalism,” which will be awarded on Dec. 10.

MRU investigative reporters: Noel Harper, Christian Kindrachuk
Faculty advisor/reporter: Janice Paskey
Calgary Journal managing editor: Archie McLean