The province says it was just a trickle, but cottagers in the Whiteshell say a sewage lagoon has overflowed onto a popular beach and into the Winnipeg River.
“It’s just totally unacceptable,” said Doug Petrick, a cottager near Dorothy Lake.
Petrick says the lagoon started overflowing at the end of July and leached under the highway, creating a small creek of untreated waste water flowing down to the beach and into the lake.
It’s one of at least 10 spills so far this year from sewage lagoons and municipal waste-water treatment systems that dumped more than 80,000 cubic metres into the province’s waterways. That’s enough to fill more than 600,000 bathtubs, and most of the raw or semi-treated sewage eventually flowed into Lake Winnipeg, which has long been an environmental priority for the Doer government.
More worrisome is that at least three lagoons dumped their contents into nearby waterways during last spring’s flood. Manitoba Conservation doesn’t know how much raw or semi-treated sewage was washed away, but they believe any ill effects would be diluted by flood waters.
Conservation Minister Stan Struthers says the province has spent more than $8 million over the last three years repairing and replacing sewage lagoons that leach nutrients and bacteria into the waterways that feed Lake Winnipeg.
Staff at Manitoba Conservation also say there’s no way the Dorothy Lake lagoon’s sewage reached all the way to the lake. The lagoon did overflow a little in July but there was nowhere near enough effluent to reach the lake or cause any water quality problems on the beach. What the creek cottagers saw could have been the result of a blocked culvert that was unclogged at about the same time.
Since then, Manitoba Conservation has stopped allowing sewage trucks to empty their waste in the lagoon, closed some campground showers and is checking the lagoon’s levels almost daily. But Tory MLA and environment critic Heather Stefanson said the spill is symptomatic of the Doer government’s lethargic approach to cleaning up faulty sewage lagoons.
“Something needs to be done right away,” she said. “Something should have been done a long time ago.”
Cottagers on Dorothy Lake took a video of the spill that shows a marshy creek flowing from the lagoon and turning into a small creek on the lake’s sandy beach.
Petrick said the cottage owners association took water quality samples and found the water had E. coli levels far higher than provincial guidelines.
Several years ago, after Petrick’s family and others became ill after swimming near a sewage lagoon spill, a series of solutions were proposed to fix up several lagoons in the Whiteshell.
“It’s now four years and relatively nothing has been done,” said Petrick, who said cottagers would be willing to pay higher park fees if the government chipped in to repair the lagoon.
Other problem areas this year
June in Point du Bois—Heavy rain overwhelmed the sewage treatment plant, which has perennial problems, but only 6.6 cubic metres of sewage spilled into the Winnipeg River.
April in West Hawk Lake—The walls of the lagoon were slumping and an unknown amount of sewage spilled into West Hawk Lake.
April in Stonewall—Spring runoff overloaded the lagoon so it was emptied into a drain.
April in St. Pierre-Jolys—Heavy snow and frozen storm drains forced the province to discharge 66,000 cubic metres of sewage into the Rat River.
April in Riverton—Meltwater caused the lagoon to overflow its banks. 10,000 cubic meters flowed into the Icelandic River.
April in Selkirk—The flood overwhelmed the city’s combined sewers and a pumping station and 3,200 cubic meters of sewage flowed into the Red River.
April in St. Jean Baptiste—The lagoon was inundated by spring flood waters.
March in Winnipeg—A water-main break overflowed a combined sewer and 260 cubic meters of overflowed into the Red.
—Source: Manitoba Water Stewardship