Raw sewage spill found on Tsuu T’ina reserve

Raw, untreated sewage from Redwood Meadows recently spilled onto the forest floor on Tsuu T’ina First Nations land, according to a CBC News investigation.

Waste water could contaminate Elbow River, a Calgary drinking water source

Raw, untreated sewage from Redwood Meadows recently spilled onto the forest floor on Tsuu T’ina First Nations land, according to a CBC News investigation.

Once again water experts are worried about waste water contaminating the Elbow River, a major source of drinking water for Calgary.

This is "very similar to a Third World practice," said Chris Bolton with Benchmark Labs, the independent firm hired by CBC News to test the waste water from the Calgary bedroom community.

The pipe is no longer spewing untreated waste water.

Tsuu T'ina spokesman Peter Manywounds said the pipe only discharges waste during peak flow times, coinciding with rising river water.

"While it's obviously not a preferred option, the reason that it works…is because the dilution factor," said Manywounds. "In fact, the sewage is totally within standards for any kind of discharge and it only takes place during peak flood season."

Manywounds stresses the First Nation notified regulatory bodies about the release.

History of sewage spills

Raw sewage spilled onto the forest floor for three weeks in 2011 and 2012.

The Tsuu T'ina First Nation is supposed to pipe sewage from Redwood Meadows into a sewer lagoon on its territorial land. Instead, waste water spurts continuously from the waste pipe on to the ground — about 500 metres from the Elbow River 

"For all intents and purposes, it is raw sewage," Bolton told CBC News after testing the water. "You find toilet paper in" the samples.  

Similar testing in 2012 paid for by CBC News also found alarming water test results.

Recent samples from the Elbow River downstream from the seeping waste pipe show elevated levels of fecal coliform — including E. coli — as well.

However, the levels do not, exceed provincial guidelines.  

Bolton says heavy rain and high water levels have likely diluted the bacteria downstream from the Tsuu T'ina land. 

The water expert stresses the Tsuu T'ina is contravening federal and provincial legislation surrounding waste. He worries that if waste continues to flow from the pipe and water levels in the Elbow River drop, contamination levels could increase.  

The City of Calgary said it hasn't detected anything unusual during its daily testing. And even if contamination levels rise, officials insist that the city's state-of-art water treatment system could eliminate any dangerous bacteria in Calgary's drinking water.

Bolton says the waste comes with other risks as well, including mosquitoes picking up parasites and other diseases that could be transmitted to humans.

An official with the City of Calgary says it intends to ask both the federal and provincial governments to address the problem.

Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development declined to comment, stressing it has no jurisdiction on federal reserve land.  

In an e-mailed statement, spokesperson Jamie Hanlon told CBC News that provincial officials plans to offer assistance to the Tsuu T’ina First Nation if they "need of support."

Test results report

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With files from Jen Lee/CBC