Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's hitting the fan over sewage

Opponents outraged as St. Clements lagoon OK'd

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Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh maintains Lake Winnipeg will be safer with St. Clements' lagoon than without.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh maintains Lake Winnipeg will be safer with St. Clements' lagoon than without. Photo Store

The Selinger government has dismissed an appeal to stop a sewage lagoon being located on the site of an old dynamite plant in East Selkirk.

Local residents and the Lake Winnipeg Foundation objected to the lagoon, arguing it would discharge treated effluent directly into the Red River, along with carcinogens from the site that could poison fish stocks.

They appealed the award of the licence to Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh, who took it to cabinet Wednesday, where the decision was made.

Mackintosh said a decision was also made to enhance monitoring of ground and surface water when the lagoon begins to operate as early as next summer.

"Our job was to ensure the environmental integrity of what is happening here," Mackintosh said. "Our scientists are saying that has been done."

Save Lake Winnipeg spokeswoman Vicki Burns called the cabinet dismissal of the appeal "maddening."

"This is a good example of government talking up 'saving Lake Winnipeg' but not following through with the concrete actions that need to happen. There are other good ways to deal with sewage treatment that would minimize the contribution to the problem," Burns said by email Wednesday night.

Mackintosh said the RM of St. Clements needs the lagoon to better treat sewage and deal with faulty septic fields that at times put raw waste in ditches.

He said the community northeast of the city has had a number of boil-water advisories because of the problem.

The RM of St. Clements received a licence from the province in August to build a 12-hectare lined sewage lagoon in which air is to be pumped into treatment ponds to speed up oxidation of waste water.

It's to be located on the remediated site of an old dynamite factory on CIL Road off Henderson Highway.

Under the licence, effluent is to be tested before it's released. Phosphorus levels must meet provincial standards of one milligram per litre of waste water.

The lagoon site is less than a kilometre from the riverbank.

Mackintosh said the lagoon will help protect Lake Winnipeg in that it will keep an estimated 1,000 kilograms of phosphorus out of the Red River.

"It's one of eight upgrades of sewage treatment in the Red River Valley over the next few years," he said.

He added the RM of St. Clements will have to address four matters before it submits an operational plan for the lagoon: additional soil sampling, developing a plan if citizens complain and increased ground and surface water monitoring.

Burns reiterated initial environmental concerns and said nothing about the decision changes her mind.

She said pushing forward with the lagoon ignores advice the government paid for in a 2010 report, Evaluation of the Nutrient Reduction Strategies for Wastewater Treatment Facilities in Manitoba.

The concern remains the lagoon will add to the lake's most serious environmental threat, blue-green algae blooms, with the likelihood of nitrogen and phosphorus leaks from the lagoon.

Even the proposed method, using alum to cut the phosphorus content, is discredited because the resultant sludge can't be used on crops, Burns said.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 19, 2013 A8

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