Northern Alberta hamlet evacuating residents after water plant shut down

Leadership in a northern Alberta hamlet will be evacuating an estimated 150 people after a chemical mix-up at the community’s water plant.

'We don’t want them without no supplies to clean and wash themselves,' says Chief Vern Janvier

The municipality is providing bottled water to residents. (CBC)

Leadership in a northern Alberta hamlet will be evacuating about 150 people after a chemical mix-up at the community's water plant. 

Vern Janvier, chief of the Prairie Chipewyan First Nation, said the First Nation decided on Monday to offer residents who rely on piped water the option of leaving their homes.  

There are 107 houses on the system, and Janvier said from one to six people live in each house. He anticipates there will be between 150 and 200 evacuees. 

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo stopped the flow of water through the pipes after chemicals were transferred into the water treatment plant on Friday at 10 a.m., according to the municipality's website. 

It will take more than a week to clean up the water plant. The municipality said that will include removing the chemicals, cleaning the reservoir and reinstalling the tank. 

Alberta Health Services is warning residents against using water for drinking, cooking, or personal hygiene.

Janvier said he's particularly concerned about elderly people and families with kids.

"We don't want them without no supplies to clean and wash themselves," said Janvier. "It doesn't take long to get sick."

People who use trucked water will still be able to get deliveries from Conklin.

The municipality will supply bottled water to residents who stay in Janvier, which is about 120 kilometres south of Fort McMurray.  

"A lot of it is mostly precautionary measures, making fully sure there's no problems," said Janvier.

The community's elementary school, Father R. Perin School, shut down because of the water outage. 

Curtis Walty, communications co-ordinator for Northland School Division, said the school was closed because it would have been too difficult to maintain health standards.

The principal will adjust the calendar to make sure students can make up the days. 

"It's an unfortunate situation," said Walty. "As much as we want the students to continue to learn and have regular classes ... we want to make sure that they're doing it in a safe environment."

Marina Nokohoo says she's disappointed with the way the municipality is handling the situation. (Submitted by Marina Nokohoo)

Resident Marina Nokohoo, 53, said she has concerns about her home, which is heated with water. Right now there's still enough pressure to keep the house heated, but that won't last much longer.

"The pump's already making noise," said Nokohoo. 

She said the municipality sent someone to look at her home and try to find a solution. But so far nothing has been done.

Nokohoo said she's frustrated with the way the municipality is handling the situation. 

She said she attended a community meeting on Sunday night, which was an opportunity for residents to ask questions. But she didn't get the answers she wanted. 

Nokohoo, a former power engineer, said she used to be an operator at the plant. She wanted to see the results of the tests done on the community's water, but couldn't get them. 

She also wants to know why this happened in the first place. 

Dylan Corbett, a spokesperson for the municipality, said in an email the municipality is working with Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, Alberta Emergency Management Agency and Indigenous Services Canada. 

"We continue to deliver safe drinking water to the community, and are regularly ensuring there is a steady supply available for the entire community."

The municipality has also provided heated washrooms and showers around Janvier. 

Corbett said no residents were exposed to contaminated water.