A provincial official says North Battleford and Prince Albert took steps that were fully warranted to protect their water treatment systems following the Husky Energy oil spill in July.
Test results released by the Water Security Agency on Monday, Aug. 15 found no unsafe harmful chemical levels for humans, out of 21 samples taken Aug. 4 and 5. Two of the samples had higher than recommended levels for aquatic life.
Sam Ferris, executive director for environmental and municipal management services with the Water Security Agency, said closing the intakes and arranging alternate water supplies was justified given the spread of the oil downstream, past North Battleford, with a sheen detected at Prince Albert and Melfort.
“At that time when you’re faced with making that decision, you have to ask yourself, do you want to contaminate the water treatment plant? How would you decontaminate it? What are the effects going to be? Remember early in the event, particularly for North Battleford, we didn’t have a really good idea of what the levels of oil were coming down the river,” Ferris said.
When asked if Husky could reject any claims made by municipalities as being more than what was needed, Ferris replied that would remain to be seen.
“If I was operating one of those plants I would be very cautious about taking any contaminated water into the system,” he said.
The samples taken by the Water Security Agency were from five locations, including near the North Battleford and Prince Albert water intakes. Sampling also happened further downstream. The results follow much more extensive testing done on Husky’s behalf, which found only five samples that failed the guidelines for human consumption.
Ferris said it would likely be a matter of weeks, not months, before the river water could be used again. He said experts from the cities and Husky are still investigating whether additional filtration systems would be necessary, but the results were “promising” for Prince Albert and Melfort. The assessment is exploring where remaining oil is and in what form, how it might react to flooding or spring break-up, and what kind of monitoring would be required, in the short and long-term.
He said previous spills have resulted in oil showing up as long as five years or more afterwards. Of concern is how much, and in what form.
In the meantime, Ferris said municipal water supplies continue to hold up well. North Battleford’s reservoirs were at 80 to 100 per cent full, with extra water provided by the town of Battleford. Prince Albert is now getting water from both the Little Red and South Saskatchewan rivers, and reservoir levels were between 91 and 94 per cent.
Nearly 680 people from the Ministry of Environment continue to work on the cleanup following the July 21 spill of blended crude oil into the North Saskatchewan River from a pipeline northwest of Maidstone. Wes Kotyk, director of the environmental protection branch, said most of that effort was still focused on the section close to the spill site, an area approximately 69 km long.
Geoff Smith is battlefordsNOW's News Director, business and agriculture reporter. He can be reached at [email protected] or tweet him @smithco.
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