‘It just reeks like hell’ Retention-pond stench fuelled by goose droppings brings gorgeous fall weather to eye-watering end in Riverbend

Burning sulphur. Cow manure.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/10/2021 (422 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Burning sulphur. Cow manure.

That’s how some Winnipeggers describe the pungent odour of a Red River Boulevard retention pond.

“We’re sitting here (inside), captive in this beautiful weather and our windows are closed. (The smell is) constant, you open your door and you’re just choking,” said Donna McDonald. “It’s horrible.”

The stormwater retention basin at Red River Boulevard West and Riverstone Road in Riverbend, just off Main Street south of the Perimeter Highway, has always attracted a large population of geese. But for the last 10 days, it has emitted an odour much more foul than ever before, McDonald said.

Donna McDonald says she and her neighbours are overwhelmed by the stench of a nearby pond in Riverbend. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

“I went for a walk (Tuesday) and walked right up to the pond and I couldn’t breathe. It literally just takes your breath away,” she said.

She and her neighbours initially suspected the “cow manure” scent was coming from the North End sewage treatment plant before they determined the source was the pond.

A raw sewage smell was quickly detected at the site during a Free Press visit Thursday afternoon, and intensified each time the wind shifted directions. A few hundred geese were gathered in and around the pond at the time.

Roman Pniowsky said a “burning sulphur” stench made it difficult to use his backyard deck over the past two weeks.

“It just reeks like hell,” he said.

Coun. Jeff Browaty, who represents the area, said he’s received about a dozen complaints about the retention pond so far and personally visited it to check out the problem.

“It’s obviously a very unpleasant smell. I fully appreciate that residents are unhappy about the smell and would like to see something done as quickly as possible,” Browaty said.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the city can quickly eliminate the problem, the North Kildonan councillor noted.

A city spokesperson said the smell, along with the current “milky” appearance of the pond, appear to be caused by a bacterial bloom.

A stormwater retention basin in Riverbend, just off Main Street south of the Perimeter Highway, has always attracted a large population of geese. For the last 10 days, a bacterial bloom fed by goose excrement, has emitted an odour much more foul than ever before according to nearby residents.

“A bacterial bloom occurs as a result of heavy nutrient loading — an abundance of bacterial colonies form in the water to try and break down those nutrients… the odour results from the bacteria releasing gas as it breaks down the nutrients,” spokesperson Adam Campbell said in an emailed statement.

Nutrients can enter ponds via excrement, such as goose poop, as well as fertilizers. Campbell noted bacterial blooms have emerged in local retention ponds before, usually in the fall.

“While the exact cause isn’t known, the issue tends to be worse at ponds with large geese populations,” he said, adding the natural breakdown of the nutrients could take time.

“This process can take up to three weeks, after which the odour should subside (or it will subside after ice cover),” said Campbell.

The city is sealing some sewer manholes to help mitigate the smell and will avoid flushing sewers in the area, since that could make the odour worse, he said.

But Browaty said there’s not much more that can be done to address the odour.

“I wish there was a magic wand that we could make the smell go away tomorrow… It is frustrating,” the councillor said.

Browaty said he’s hopeful a shift to cooler, wet weather could soon help entice the geese to move on, stopping them from making more deposits in the pond.

After a summer-like start to October, Environment Canada predicts Winnipeg will see rain this weekend, with high temperatures reaching only 16 C Saturday and 17 C on Sunday.


Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.


Updated on Sunday, October 10, 2021 5:17 PM CDT: Updates photo caption.

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