Rural areas thirsting for water after Prince Albert plant shut down due to Husky oil spill

People in rural areas around Prince Albert are scrambling to find alternate sources of water after losing supplies from the treatment plant in the larger city.

Communities linked to Prince Albert for treated water left dry

Crews work to clean up an oil spill on the North Saskatchewan river near Maidstone, Sask., on Friday July 22, 2016. Husky Energy said between 200,000 and 250,000 litres of crude oil and other material leaked into the river from its pipeline. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

People in rural areas around Prince Albert are scrambling to find alternate sources of water after losing supplies from the treatment plant in the larger city.

Prince Albert closed its municipal facility to avoid drawing in water from the North Saskatchewan River following an oil spill by Husky Energy, further upstream.

The city supplies a rural utility that is connected to many small communities and individual homes.

The Muskoday First Nation relies on Prince Albert for its water supply.

Chief Carl Austin Bear said he learned his community's supply would be shut off on Saturday and the actual line to his community was closed shortly after that notice was given.

"We were notified that the water line would be shut off from the city to the Muskoday First Nation," he said Tuesday.

Use water sparingly

The course of the North Saskatchewan River highlighted from Maidstone to east of Prince Albert (and beyond where it merges with the South Saskatchewan River to become the Saskatchewan River). A leak from a Husky Energy pipeline near Maidstone led to some 200,000 litres of heavy oil entering the river Thursday. (CBC)

The community has two reservoirs, Bear explained, which are normally recharged with treated water from Prince Albert.

"We do have that capacity," Bear said. "But to keep the reservoirs in supply and keep the pumps operating we are now hauling water to the reservoirs to maintain that supply."

He said the community has arrangements with a company that has a large tanker and, combined with local tanker trucks, they are using three vehicles to haul treated water to the reservoir. The deliveries are coming from water supplied from two nearby communities that are still operating treatment plants.

Residents of the community were advised to use water sparingly, Bear said.

"We don't want the threat of pumps going down because if our pumps reach a low pressure that presents a whole bunch of other problems and concerns," he said.

He wasn't sure how long the situation would last but expected it would be until at least Prince Albert was satisfied the city itself was able to meet its needs.

Frustration expressed by some

Many people who relied on water from Prince Albert are buying drinking water to use for all of their water needs. (CBC)

The community is one of several that is served by the Prince Albert Rural Water Utility which is supplied by the treatment plant in Prince Albert.

Ken Danger, from the utility, said when their supply was closed, their system was left without water.

We're afraid of health issues and all kinds of things like that.- Ken Danger

"When our water was shut off, our people were off very quickly. With no water," Danger said.

Residential users, he said, would have a minimum amount of water stored in their homes and no way to recharge.

"For most people that water is gone," he said. "And they have no way of getting any more."

Danger said some people are making their own arrangement to haul water and others are making do with only bottled water for drinking.

"They're in dire straights," he said. "We're afraid of health issues and all kinds of things like that."

Among the challenges people are facing, he said, is simply finding tanks to store water that they are able to bring in.

"There are some people that are angry, there are some people that are really frustrated. Just totally beside themselves," Danger said. "They've got little children. They can't flush toilets, can't wash their hands. Things like that."

With files from CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition