Husky oil spill: Prince Albert, Sask., begins bypass line operations for fresh water

A new source of water is almost ready to flow into Prince Albert's water treatment plant from two improvised lines built to provide an alternate supply after intake valves in the North Saskatchewan River were closed due to an upstream leak of oil from a Husky Energy pipeline.

The city hopes water treatment will return to normal capacity with new sources

The City of Prince Albert is testing a temporary water line from the South Saskatchewan River to its water treatment plant after the Husky oil spill left it with a limited supply. (Marc-Antoine Belanger-CBC Radio-Canada)

A new source of water is almost ready to flow into Prince Albert's water treatment plant from two improvised lines built in recent days to provide an alternate supply after intake valves in the North Saskatchewan River were closed due to a leak of oil from a Husky Energy pipeline upstream of the city.

"It's good-quality water," Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne said Saturday, referring to a line that is drawing water from the Little Red River, also known as the Spruce River.  "It's actually a little better quality than the North Saskatchewan, so our plant should be able to handle it very well."

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne said costs affiliated with the oil spill will exceed $8 million. To date, Husky estimates it's spent $90 million on the cleanup. (CBC)

The city of 35,000 has been under a local state of emergency since Monday and Dionne said residents and businesses have done an excellent job of curtailing their water use.

The spill, from a Husky Energy pipeline near Maidstone, Sask., led to some 200,000 to 250,000 litres of heavy oil entering the river. Officials said that cleanup efforts had collected about 106,000 litres of material. 

Dionne said there's a water testing lab at the treatment plant and officials are able to evaluate the water constantly.

RAW: Crews build temporary waterline for Prince Albert

6 years ago
Duration 0:55
RAW: Crews build temporary water line for Prince Albert.

The water in the Little Red River line is from Anglin Lake, north of Prince Albert. Dams were opened to release water down a winding river to a Prince Albert park where it is being pumped another six kilometres to the city's treatment plant.

Another water line extends some 30 kilometres south to the South Saskatchewan River. That line was also being put into operation Saturday, with expectations it too will provide water.

"We hope to get [the treatment plant] running almost at capacity," Dionne said, adding that city engineers were being cautious about expectations.

"Pushing water 30 kilometres is a push," he said.

Water from both rivers will first move to settling ponds, to deal with sediment, and then enter the treatment plant's system. Officials said that should happen on Monday.

Dionne said the city's backup source, if the two water lines don't work out, is water from a storm water retention pond. City officials said Saturday they have enough in that system to last until Tuesday.

River clean-up continues

Also on Saturday, provincial officials reported that six kilometres have been cleaned along the river in the area where the leak originated. 

Wes Kotyk, executive director of Environmental Protection for the provincial government, said the crews are still in the preliminary stages of cleaning. 

Cleaning efforts are advancing at a rate of about two kilometres per day, he said. Work is also underway to survey a 38-kilometre stretch of river to determine if there are any problem areas.

Prince Albert started work on two alternate supply lines earlier in the week.

Officials hope temporary water lines will be ready to pump water to Prince Albert's treatment plant on Saturday. (CBC)

City manager Jim Toye said Saturday morning he hoped the water line from the South Saskatchewan River would be operational in the afternoon. Workers were going from pump to pump on the temporary lines, to check on the flow. 

The stakes are also high for people living in the Rural Municipality of Prince Albert, where the water supply has been shut down. 

Crews in Prince Albert, Sask., have devised a pumping system in Little Red River Park, part of an effort to draw water from the Spruce River to supply the city's water treatment plant. (CBC)

Those people — about 8,000 altogether — are relying on stored water and deliveries of water that is under a cautionary advisory from the rural municipality's water utility service. The City of Prince Albert usually sells and supplies treated water to the rural utility, but it cut off that supply.

The city said it will not resume supplying the rural system until it knows how much water the new line can provide. 

Crews work to clean up an oil spill on the North Saskatchewan river near Maidstone, Sask., on Friday July 22, 2016. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

The water line to the South Saskatchewan was originally scheduled to be finished on Friday, but work was suspended that night when heavy traffic from the long weekend raised safety concerns for workers. 

On Friday, officials said a line set up in Little Red River park (which will use water that works its way downstream from Anglin Lake via the Spruce River) was ready to operate and deliver water as soon as it had been tested. 

Anglin Lake could experience a .12-metre drop in water over the next 30 days as water is redirected and dams are opened to get water to Prince Albert.