Sandy Bay First Nation councillor raises concerns over diesel spill on farm near Lake Manitoba

Officials say a diesel spill on a property near Lake Manitoba just over two weeks ago has been contained and there is little risk of the fuel contaminating Sandy Bay First Nation's water source, but a community official says he has concerns about the spill.

Spill reported immediately, no signs of contamination in drinking water currently, province says

A device designed to absorb fuel spills is shown atop water in a ditch that drains into Lake Manitoba. A May 9 diesel spill west of Lake Manitoba has some in Sandy Bay First Nation concerned the leak could contaminate their water supply. No contamination has been detected so far, the province says. (Randal Roulette/Facebook)

Officials say a diesel spill on a property near Lake Manitoba just over two weeks ago has been contained and there is little risk of the fuel contaminating Sandy Bay First Nation's water source, but a community official says he has concerns about the spill.

"We drink from these and we eat from these bodies of water," Randal Roulette, band councillor for Sandy Bay, said on Thursday.

The leak happened on the property of Terry Dayholos, the deputy reeve for the rural municipality of Alonsa and councillor for the RM's Ward 5.

He said he immediately reported the May 9 diesel spill on his property west of Lake Manitoba, and about five kilometres north of Sandy Bay, to the province. It happened while filling a tank that sprung a leak, he said.

"I would say 90 per cent of the diesel has been sucked up because we worked the first night when it happened. [Environmental crews] worked until 4 a.m.," said Dayholos. 

"We've done everything we're supposed to and we're going to continue."

RM Reeve Tom Anderson and a Manitoba Environment, Climate and Parks Environmental emergency response team also said the spill was reported quickly on May 9.

"The RM really had nothing to do with this," said Anderson. "This was all done with the proper channels with the environmental officer."

The province said Dayholos contained the spill with a berm when it happened. Environmental response contractors arrived shortly after and placed a boom in a nearby ditch, though heavy rains carried some of the diesel toward Lake Manitoba, according to the province.

As of Thursday, there had been no contamination of Sandy Bay's Lake Manitoba drinking water, and monitoring and remediation efforts were continuing, the province said in a statement.

"At this time the health risk for using the water relative to this diesel spill is considered to be very low."

Contaminated drinking water was unlikely, since the spill was several kilometres north, or downstream, from Sandy Lake First Nation, the province said.

"As well, diesel stays on surface of the water and then evaporates whereas the drinking water intake is drawn from well below the surface," the statement said.

The province says risk is also low for swimming and other activities on the lake, though it also advises people to avoid contact with any signs of contamination, such as a sheen on the water.

'Not too sure we're satisfied' with cleanup

Roulette said he and the Sandy Bay fire chief learned of the spill a few days after the fact, on May 12 or 13.

The municipality and Dayholos confirmed the spill and said a cleanup was occurring, Roulette said, including the use of foam-like booms to absorb any diesel possibly floating on the service.

"I'm not too sure we're satisfied with that," Roulette said. "We just don't feel its enough…. It's very concerning."

Roulette said some Lake Manitoba cottagers later told him they noticed a strong smell in the area.

"It was basically making them nauseous, giving them headaches," he said. 

Randal Roulette, a band councillor with Sandy Bay First Nation, said some Lake Manitoba cottagers in the area where the drainage ditch leads into the lake from the Dayholos farm have complained of strong odours. (Randal Roulette/Facebook)

Roulette said he visited that area with officials from the Southern Chiefs' Organization, who took water samples from the lake. Results from two separate sampling periods this month are still pending.

Though he is not aware of any sign of diesel contamination in Sandy Bay's water, the event worries him.

"Our best interest is to protect our lake," he said.

"Seeing this incident like this, I am wondering if there's any more … agricultural stuff that goes on along the lake that we don't know about," he said.

Chandra Dayholos said she and her husband have incurred significant costs already as part of the cleanup. She says they are similarly concerned about the potential impacts of the spill.

"We live by the lake and we use the lake," she said. "We had the same concerns and that was why we contacted the professionals."

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Bryce Hoye


Bryce Hoye is a multi-platform Manitoba journalist covering news, science, justice, health, 2SLGBTQ issues and other community stories. He has a background in wildlife biology and occasionally works for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for a 2017 feature on the history of the fur trade. He is also Prairie rep for outCBC.

With files from Stephen Ripley and Holly Caruk