Sewage leaks again prompt water concerns for residents of Ma-Me-O Beach

The latest sewage leak at Ma-Me-O Beach has some people living there vocalizing concerns around a new sewage system some of them opposed to begin with.

Second leak since April prompts some residents to worry about tap water safety

The latest sewage leak at Ma-Me-O-Beach last Saturday prompted the line being shut down for pressure testing. (Zahra Premji /CBC News)

A new sewage system in Ma-Me-O Beach sprung a leak for the second time last weekend, prompting renewed concerns from residents of the summer village on Pigeon Lake.

Saturday's leak of sewage, including toilet waste, followed a previous leak in April of this year in the system that was installed last fall at a cost of $3 million.

This week, community members Ron Lupton and Bob Giebelhaus said leaks were their concern from the beginning. Now they want to see the system removed or inspected by an independent contractor.

Both said they fear leaks like Saturday's could cause sewage to seep into their water supply and the lake.

"There was nothing wrong with what we had. I've always said that and I guess I've never been a proponent for a sewer out here anyway. This just reinforces what I thought," Giebelhaus said.

In April, residents said the new system leaked after sections of pipe froze over the winter.

Mayor Don Fleming said two leaks are too many but there's a plan to address it.

"We decided ... we're going to shut down the whole line and do a pressure test of the entire system to make sure there are no more leaks at all. We're not overly concerned that's going to be a major problem," Fleming said.

While the line is shut down, people already connected to the new system are still able to use water and flush their toilets.

Ron Lupton and Bob Giebelhaus discuss their concerns around the sewage leaks at Ma-Me-O Beach. (Scott Neufeld / CBC News)

Lupton said the two leaks are just seven blocks apart and so many more could be hidden underground between them.

"Water has to go somewhere, and water goes down, so we're afraid it's going to get into our aquifer and drinking water," Lupton said.

Fleming called that an overreaction and said there are no concerns around that at this time.

In an emailed statement Wednesday, a spokesperson for Alberta Environment and Parks said the village notified the government about Saturday's leak. No surface water entered the lake, the statement said.

"Village staff have localized the release points and have shut down the system," it said. "There is a contingency plan in place for wastewater collection and village staff are working to repair the issue."

Village staff are keeping a provincial compliance team updated on their progress and Alberta Health Services is involved, the statement said.

Fleming said for now, no third party will be involved in assessing the line and conducting pressure tests. He said he has faith in the contractors who are working on the sewer line.

Where it all started

For more than 30 years there have been debates on the best way to deal with waste in the summer village, which is 90 kilometres southwest of Edmonton.

In 2012, the village council passed a bylaw requiring all homeowners to install wastewater holding tanks.

By 2016, council wanted a less smelly method of managing wastewater.

Since the summer village is on the lakeshore, a traditional sewer system was ruled out. Council started looking at a low-flow system where solids would remain in existing tanks and grey water would be pumped out and into the main sewer line.

Some community members, including Lupton and Giebelhaus, opposed this method because of fears of leaks due to freezing and other possible malfunctions.

Following Saturday's leak, both said their fears continue to become a reality.

Lupton said some residents have formed a committee and plan to continue fighting for the third-party inspection and a reassessment of the current sewer system.


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