Tests 'encouraging' but no decisions yet on river use

By Geoff Smith
August 25, 2016 - 2:00pm

The Water Security Agency says test results from the North Saskatchewan River that have come back so far are “generally encouraging,” as the cleanup from the Husky oil spill enters the home stretch.

Out of 120 samples taken by the agency, only one failed to meet the guidelines for human consumption. A sample taken at North Battleford along the northeast riverbank tested above the guideline for a hydrocarbon called benzo(a)pyrene. Sam Ferris, executive director of the environmental and municipal management services division, said the more data available to make a decision, the better.

“The more data I have that shows what’s going on, the happier I’m going to be,” Ferris said Thursday, Aug. 8. “If you know the levels, it’s relatively easy to start to understand if those can be removed.”

Ferris said the petroleum found in the river is in particulate form, which can generally be removed successfully by water treatment plants. However, more information is still needed before deciding whether North Battleford, Prince Albert, and Melfort can resume drawing river water before winter.

“You need assurances of what is coming down the river, and how is it going to affect these intakes,” Ferris said. “We’re still awaiting the finalization of a couple of key pieces of information, such as a health risk assessment and a little bit more complete treatment capacity information.”

Ferris said he is “hopeful” the intakes could be running again in a few weeks.

North Battleford is now using groundwater from two of the four new wells planned to supplement the water supply while the river intake is closed off. Ferris said all seven established wells are back online, after two had power issues and one had a leak in a line.

Ferris said Prince Albert officials are looking into a leak in one of the pipelines supplying that city from the South Saskatchewan River.

Cleanup efforts continue. But Wes Kotyk, executive director of the environmental protection branch with the Ministry of Environment, said some of the operations will have to be halted temporarily due to an expected two-metre rise in the river level in the coming days. He said staff will be back to work as soon as possible, with the expectation that cleanup can wrap up by Oct. 1, when freeze-up is expected.

Kotyk said 73 per cent of the oil that spilled July 21 has now been recovered and cleanup of the high-priority areas is 84 per cent finished. The leak from the Husky Energy pipeline killed 144 animals.

Laurie Pushor, the deputy minister of the economy, said the full report of the investigation into the spill will be released as soon as it’s available.

“It will including findings across the operations and cause, and the operations before and after the incident occurred,” he said. He declined to speculate on possible causes.


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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