Husky oil spill: Prince Albert water situation stabilizing

After an oil spill last week, officials in Prince Albert, Sask., say the city's water situation is slowly returning to normal.

State of emergency was declared last week, but officials say things returning to normal

The City of Prince Albert is testing a temporary waterline from the South Saskatchewan River to its water treatment plant, following an oil spill. (Marc-Antoine Belanger-CBC Radio-Canada)

After an oil spill last week, officials in Prince Albert, Sask., say the city's water situation will slowly be returning to normal.

Water from the South Saskatchewan River will flow into the city's water reservoir today.

Last week, city workers began building a 30-kilometre emergency waterline connecting the city's water treatment plant to the South Saskatchewan River. Now, after several days of testing, officials are convinced that the water is ready to be treated.

"It was up and running yesterday," said city manager Jim Toye. "It ran pretty well for about seven hours, and they had a couple of tweaks they wanted to make in some of the pumps, and it should be full bore on again early this morning."

A state of emergency was declared in Prince Albert almost a week ago following a spill of oil from a Husky Energy pipeline that led to some 200,000 to 250,000 litres of heavy oil (mixed with another product called a diluent) entering the North Saskatchewan River at Maidstone. 

Meanwhile, crews are busy working on cleaning up the spill. About 126 cubic metres of oil from the Husky pipeline has been recovered, according to Saskatchewan government officials. 

The city now has multiple sources of water to draw from. Yesterday, water from the nearby Little Red River was being added to the city's reservoir system, and then into the water treatment system. Along with the city's storm retention pond, Prince Albert is hopeful the emergency sources of water will be able to tide the city over until it is able to use water from the North Saskatchewan once again.

RAW: Crews build temporary water line for Prince Albert. 0:55

"It's good to have three sources," said Toye. "They're all reliable. They're all going to take us, hopefully, to the fall and winter. Our main goal is to get approval from the Water Security Agency so we can source from the North Saskatchewan River and continue as normal."

The city wants to assure everyone in Prince Albert that the water is safe, and meets drinking water standards.

"This water is safe, potable water that we would never put into the distribution line unless it was properly tested," said Toye.

Back to normal

As a result, services might be getting back to normal soon. The city will be talking to rural users of Prince Albert's city water supply today, and is hoping to get them back online in the next few days. 

Prince Albert is asking citizens to abide by strict water restrictions. Car washes and laundromats have been closed. City pools and spray parks have also been shut down, and no one is allowed to water their lawns.

Businesses that were forced to shut down due to emergency water restrictions might be getting some relief.

"We want to make sure the system is back up and running, bring back the users that we had to shut down, such as our car washes, our laundromat," he said. "We want to do that first. Secondly, we'll take off all of the conservation processes, we'll eliminate those for our citizens, then we would talk to our rural water authorities and talk about taking them back on board."

Husky Energy has stated that it will reimburse communities that have been affected.

South Saskatchewan waterline

Meanwhile, crews are continuing to work to keep the South Saskatchewan waterline operational. The line, which has pumping machines every two kilometres along the stretch, was damaged on the weekend, apparently by a driver who didn't follow the posted speed limit. That damage has since been repaired.

Residents are asked to stay at least three metres away from the water pipeline wherever possible. The city has brought in additional security around the pipeline to keep it safe, and people are asked to obey all signage.

This water reservoir is part of Prince Albert's water treatment system. The city has been working to bring new sources of water to the plant following an oil spill into the North Saskatchewan River. (CBC News)

While the city's new supply of fresh water is easing concerns, Prince Albert's emergency conservation bylaw remains in effect. Residents and businesses will be fined $1,400 if they are found to be breaking the bylaw. Citizens are encouraged to call Bylaw Services at (306) 953-4222 if you see residents and commercial businesses not following the rules.

Clean-up efforts

Provincial officials noted Sunday that four communities and rural municipalities were still under local states of emergency:

  • City of Prince Albert.
  • RM of Prince Albert.
  • RM of Buckland.
  • Muskoday First Nation.

Prince Albert extended its emergency status for another seven days.

The province also provided an update on clean-up operations, noting that some 38 kilometres along the river had been assessed and seven kilometres had been cleaned.

Booms remain in place on the water to catch any oil that is dislodged from the shoreline during the cleaning process. Officials noted that the cleanup is still in the preliminary stages and said that a total of 126,000 litres had been recovered.

They added that a concern relating to the spill is that oil may settle on the bottom of the river. Officials said some oil has been detected in the 900 collected samples so far.

Officials said they will have a better idea of the scope and scale of the environmental impact on Monday.

They added that, as of Sunday, there were 42 cases of wildlife that died, linked to the spill.

With files from Francois Biber, The Canadian Press