Work begins to stop raw sewage from flowing into LaHave River

The work to swap out straight pipes for the new septic systems is going well, says Carolyn Bolivar-Getson, mayor of the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg.

'By 2023, we hope to be straight-pipe free,' says the mayor of Lunenburg municipality

Work has begun to install septic systems to replace the straight pipes carrying raw sewage from households along the LaHave River into the waterway. (CBC)

A long-awaited cleanup project to remove straight pipes spewing raw sewage into Nova Scotia's LaHave River has started.

The polluted river got widespread attention in 2015 when local elementary school student Stella Bowles, who was 11 at the time, tested the water for a science project and posted online the results that showed high levels of fecal bacteria. The post was shared thousands of times and galvanized local politicians into taking action.

The work to swap out straight pipes for septic systems that include septic tanks, pump chamber, sand filters and drain fields is going well, says Carolyn Bolivar-Getson, mayor of the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg.

Carolyn Bolivar Getson, mayor of the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg, says the goal of the LaHave cleanup project is to have the river 'straight-pipe free' by 2023. (CBC)

"Right now, we have nine systems that are in the ground and inspected. We have 20 that's been approved. But we expect to have 75 to 100 in the ground completed by the end of the year," she said.

"By 2023, we hope to be straight-pipe free. I believe we are on a good path to being there."

The cost of installing septic systems at the 600 homes with straight pipes is estimated at $15.7 million. That is being shared by the federal and provincial governments and individual homeowners, Bolivar-Getson said.

One of the straight pipes that carry sewage into the LaHave River from households located along the shore. (CBC)

"The overall cost to the homeowner is approximately $4,000 to $8,000. The total cost for each system is looking at around the $15,000 to $18,000 range," she said.

Margaret Schmeisser of Middle LaHave expects the work to install septic tanks on her property will begin in the next week or so.

She and her husband have lived on the river's shore for the past 55 years.

They welcome the installation of the new septic system to replace the existing straight pipe, something they had wanted to do but were afraid their property was too small and the cost would be too much.

Margaret Schmeisser of Middle LaHave, N.S., says the work to replace the straight sewage pipe on her family's property with septic tanks is a positive development. (CBC)

"They found out a way how to do it. So that will be OK. It's some kind of tank, I think it is two. But whatever they're doing, they are going to do it properly so then we won't have to worry about it," Schmeisser said.

"We pay a third of it. It goes on our taxes. I find it more manageable that way."

Bolivar-Getson said the shared cost makes the work much more affordable for residents, especially for those, like the Schmeissers, on fixed incomes.

Student Stella Bowles posted this photo on Facebook in 2015 after testing the water in the LaHave River during a school science experiment. (Facebook )

"It's not that people want to have a straight pipe, it's that they do not have the financial means to be able to do this," she said.

"So this is win-win for our residents and a win-win for our environment and everyone involved in the project because we all need to protect our waterways."

Currently, residents in the waste-water management district along the river are coming forward voluntarily to sign up to have the work done or show proof that their sewage disposal systems meet environmental regulations, the mayor said.

Stella Bowles stands next to the LaHave River with part of her sampling gear. (Emma Davie/CBC)

"It is voluntary at the moment but we will be following up with everyone that has not been able to produce documentation to show that they have an approved septic system," she said.

"And we'll be working with those individuals to make sure that we can prove that they have an approved one or that we are looking at doing a replacement for them."