Residents concerned water treatment plant in Beausejour, Man., will impact Brokenhead River
Mayor invites residents to come forward with questions or concerns
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 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."
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.
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."
"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.