Nfld. & Labrador

Kruger hauls decades-old barrels from the depths of Deer Lake's water supply

The company is cleaning up debris that's been sitting at the bottom of the Humber Canal since the 1950s this week.

55 barrels dating back to the 1950s being brought to the surface

Inside this containment barrel are the remnants of one of the 1950s barrels. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Fifty-five metal barrels, left for decades to deteriorate at the bottom of the Humber Canal, are seeing the light of day this week as Corner Brook Pulp and Paper undertakes a big cleanup.

The debris predates the mill's current ownership under Kruger, but the company estimates they've been decaying since about the 1950s, although their presence went undetected until residents raised red flags two years ago.

The 11-kilometre canal supplies the Deer Lake Powerhouse, which in turn generates electricity for the mill, and also does double duty as the town of Deer Lake's water supply.

"We don't know how the barrels actually ended up in the canal. But the important thing is we're taking the necessary steps to make sure it is cleaned up, and the water supply protected," said Darren Pelley, vice-president and general manager of Corner Brook Pulp and Paper.

The mill announced its cleanup intentions in April 2018.

Dive teams are collecting the old barrels all this week on the Humber Canal. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

"An assessment was done, and we saw at that point, test results showed that there was actually no detriment to the water supply," said Pelley, "but at that point, after discussion, the right thing to do was to do the cleanup."

It took until Monday for dive teams and other crews to hoist the first barrel, each so decayed the remains were scooped up underwater into a plastic containment barrel to then make a final journey into a dumpster on dry land. 

'A fight to get done'

The Deer Lake resident who says he uncovered the barrels in the first place wasn't among the workers and mill management watching the cleanup Tuesday.

"This whole thing has been a fight to get done," said Richard Dewey, who has been outspoken about water quality and canal issues in the town for years. 

He got traction on the barrels only after showing his footage of the junk to the provincial government two years ago.

This is our drinking water, and we deserve this.- Richard Dewey

"I had to go up with a GoPro camera, stick it in the water, pull it up and point at my GPS with the co-ordinates and say, 'Here, how much more do I need to do for you to take this seriously?' And here we are today, they're starting to take it seriously," he said.

But his hanging around the canal landed him in trouble Friday when, he said, he was arrested for being on the property, and charged with mischief. In the past, the canal area has been popular with hikers and dogwalkers, but security tightened up ahead of this week's cleanup.

Despite his legal woes, Dewey maintains being a squeaky wheel about the barrels was worth it.

"It's been known here for a while the canal has a lot of stuff in it, and we want to see it totally cleaned up, for everybody involved. This is our drinking water, and we deserve this," he said.

Richard Dewey lives in Deer Lake, and has been outspoken about his concerns with the canal and its water quality. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Letting other junk lie

Dewey might not get his wish.

While all 55 barrels are expected to be out of the canal by Friday, two sunken barges are staying put. The barges are thought to date back to the original construction of the canal in the mid-1920s.

Corner Brook Pulp and Paper looked into getting rid of them but, after tests and discussions with experts including Stantec's environmental engineering team, decided against it.

"There's no detriment to the environment or the water supply. So it would be more detrimental to actually remove them, due to the debris and sediment that would be moved around," said Pelley, adding what's left of the barges is just metal and untreated wood.

"At this point we're going to leave them where they are."

The barrel area, located near the water supply source, is contained with booms. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

The town is under a precautionary boil-water order while the barrel work is underway. Testing so far has shown no contaminants. and Deer Lake's mayor asserted his faith in the town's drinking water.

"We are confident. We've been part of this process for almost two years, right from the beginning," said Dean Ball.

"This is a good outcome for us today."

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About the Author

Lindsay Bird

CBC News

Lindsay Bird is a journalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, based in Corner Brook.

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