Manitoba

Residents concerned water treatment plant in Beausejour, Man., will impact Brokenhead River

Concerns are rising as work begins on a water treatment plant in Beausejour, Man., prompting some residents to challenge government officials over potential impacts on the Brokenhead River.

Mayor invites residents to come forward with questions or concerns

Andrew Ellert lives along the Brokenhead River and worries effluent from a new treatment plant in Beausejour could threaten water quality and wildlife. (Bert Savard/CBC)

Concerns are rising as work begins on a water treatment plant in Beausejour, Man., prompting some residents to challenge government officials over potential impacts on the Brokenhead River.

The new facility in the east end of the town will treat well water using reverse osmosis. A pipe is being installed along Park Avenue to send the filtered well water the system rejects into the Brokenhead River, raising questions on how that might affect water quality and wildlife.

"We have a lot of waterfowl nesting here every spring," said Andrew Ellert, who lives along the Brokenhead. "We have a snapping turtle that comes back every single year and lays eggs here."

Ellert said the river is also a popular recreation spot for tourists and locals.

"A lot of people enjoy tubing on this river," he said. "If you're here on the weekend, you would see a constant stream of people floating down the river."

The province says wastewater from the new water treatment plant will be discharged into the Brokenhead River, but says it's 'confident' the effluent will not be harmful. (Bert Savard/CBC)

The water treatment plant was approved by the Environmental Stewardship Division of Manitoba's Ministry of Conservation and Climate in 2020. 

In a statement last Friday, the ministry said it's "confident the town of Beausejour's wastewater will not affect the Brokenhead River," adding that plans for the facility underwent "a rigorous environmental assessment [...] and a thorough review by experts across the government."

The province said the discharge won't contain harmful chemicals, only elements already found in local groundwater, including a high volume of iron.

Risk higher when water levels lower

An expert at the University of Winnipeg said that could still be a concern when river levels are low.

"Maybe in the summer after a long period of drought [or] in the winter when most of the river is frozen," said Nora Casson, the Canada research chair in environmental influences on water quality. 

"When there's not very much water flowing through a river, that's a time when it can be more at risk of contamination just because there's less water there to dilute the effluent going in."

Work has begun on a pipeline along Park Avenue that'll send wastewater, including high levels of iron, from the soon-to-be-built Beausejour water treatment plant into the Brokenhead River. (Bert Savard/CBC)

Casson said this is a well-known risk, and said the province's plans call for continued testing, especially during those times of year.

"It's smart to be really careful about anything that alters the chemistry of the river and especially a river that people depend on for recreation," she said.

Concerned citizens

Dozens of concerned citizens wrote to the province during its 30-day public comment period. 

Beausejour Mayor Ray Schirle said the town invited project managers to meet with residents twice in 2020 to answer questions, but his office is still getting lots of calls.

"Engineers and scientists have all been involved," said Schirle. 

"The province can't just go give an environmental licence. There was a large, large pile of criteria that had to be met."

Beausejour Mayor Ray Schirle said he spoke to leaders of other Manitoba municipalities with similar water treatment plants. (Bert Savard/CBC)

"I hate to say it," the mayor continued, "but a lot of this is Facebook talk, and people not being knowledgeable."

Schirle said he spoke to leaders of a number of Manitoba municipalities using the same type of water treatment plants who said they haven't had any problems.

Schirle invited people to come to town hall with questions or concerns. But riverfront resident Ellert said he's not satisfied leaders in the town, which is about 50 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, are listening.

"It was more of an announcement," he said. "'This is what we're doing,' and then defend it rather than [having] a consultation."

He said a group of community members has been discussing concerns on social media, and will keep fighting to protect the river.

Residents concerned water treatment plant in Beausejour, Man., will impact Brokenhead River

4 months ago
Duration 2:01
The new facility in the east end of the town will treat well water using reverse osmosis. A pipe is being installed along Park Avenue to send wastewater into the Brokenhead River, raising questions on how that might affect water quality and wildlife.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emily Brass is a journalist at CBC Manitoba and host of the podcast Type Taboo: Diary of a New Diabetic. She's also worked for CBC in Montreal, Toronto, St. John's, Victoria and London, U.K.

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