Old Kildonan, North Kildonan lead way in outdoor odour complaints

Winnipeggers were enjoying a late burst of summer-like weather in October when a pungent smell pushed residents in the northern fringe back indoors.

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Winnipeggers were enjoying a late burst of summer-like weather in October when a pungent smell pushed residents in the northern fringe back indoors.

There, the air reeked of something resembling cow manure.

That smelly month in 2021, combined with none-too-pleased residents airing their grievances, is what thrust Old Kildonan and North Kildonan into the running for smelliest council wards in Winnipeg. Or at least, it made them the wards with the most complaints about smells.

While certain wards seem to get hit harder by bad odours for varying reasons, the city is now warning less-than-pleasant scents may soon permeate regions city-wide. Blame last week’s dump of snow.

Sewer odour and smells from treatment plants, retention ponds and the Brady Road 4R depot were collected in the 311 data. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

According to the city database provided to the Free Press, residents in Old Kildonan and North Kildonan lodged the most complaints of residents in any ward about bad smells — sewage and drainage ones specifically — in the past three years.

Of the more than 600 complaints that came in between March 2019 and March 2022, 90 were from North Kildonan and 69 were from Old Kildonan. The third highest was Waverly West, with 45 complaints.

Free Press analysis of the statistics show complaints flooded in city-wide in October 2021, marking a three-year peak with 57. The bulk of those came from North Kildonan (28) and Old Kildonan (14).

“Sewer odour outside” was the most common of all odour complaints in the 311 data. However, the database only captures complaints relating to odours from treatment plants, retention ponds, the Brady Road 4R depot or sewers.

Complaints about other smells, such as air quality or industrial odours, go to air quality management at Manitoba Conservation. Cannabis-related complaints flow to the City of Winnipeg, police or the province, depending on the nature of the complaint.

While the data indicates North Kildonan and Old Kildonan have complained the most about odours, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the “smelliest” wards.

The October spike drove up numbers, and the data is limited to three years. Plus, some residents might be more prone to complain when they get a whiff of something unpleasant.

North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty doesn’t think his constituents are big complainers. They do so when warranted.

Last fall, it was indeed warranted. A Free Press reporter visiting the area at the time confirmed the area — especially near a retention pond — smelled like “raw sewage.”

The city still isn’t sure what caused the smell, but it seems geese were to blame for a possible bacterial bloom forming in a stormwater retention basin at Red River Boulevard West and Riverstone Road in Riverbend.

A gaggle had made the basin home, possibly causing “heavy nutrient loading” in the water due to high levels of goose poop, the city said. That excrement may have led to bacteria colonies forming and releasing a foul-smelling gas in the process.

Browaty isn’t sure there’s much that can be done to prevent a repeat performance this year.

He’s heard of golf courses using dogs to scare off geese “but that’s not really practical when it’s 200 people’s backyards.”

Emails from the city to councillors looking for answers in October suggest the use of fertilizers on residential property or “poor turnover/flushing from low precipitation” could have contributed to the stink from the pond.

“Unfortunately, there is little we can do about the weather that causes the drought conditions such as this summer and where the geese land,” reads the email.

October 2021 wasn’t the only time residents flocked to 311 to lodge complaints about odorous issues.

In March of 2019, 2020 and 2021, odour complaints from residents were consistently higher than in other months.

Spring could be to blame, with the city saying foul-smelling odours can stem from snowmelt mixing with stagnant retention pond water. Stirred up, you get a “rotten egg” smell.

But in the last month, odour complaints dropped off. Just nine residents in the entire city complained about bad smells, compared to nearly three dozen in March 2021.

That’s likely because the worst is yet to come.

“The drop in complaints in March is likely due to the delayed snowmelt and will likely increase once we get more melting,” city spokesman Kalen Qually said in an email response.

Last week’s new dump of snow may make matters worse.

“More snowmelt could potentially lead to overwhelmed sewers in the older part of the city (with) combined sewer districts. When sewers become overwhelmed, they can result in an overflow,” Qually said.

It’s unclear how many complaints might be connected to incidents of untreated sewage being released into rivers. The city tracks these incidents online, though there were no clear parallels with the data provided.

Smelly situations

The City of Winnipeg advises residents to contact 311 with scent complaints but many may wonder: what happens next?

It depends.

“Depending on the nature of the complaint, a customer service representative from 311 will assign the file to a specific contact within water and waste to investigate and respond to the resident,” said spokesman Kalen Qually. “All 311 odour complaints are followed up with either an email or phone call to let them know current odour mitigation strategies or the suspected cause of the odour.”

Air quality or industrial odours complaints are redirected to air quality management at Manitoba Conservation.

As for retention pond-related issues, the city says it’s limited in what it can do.

The City of Winnipeg advises residents to contact 311 with scent complaints but many may wonder: what happens next? 

It depends.

“Depending on the nature of the complaint, a customer service representative from 311 will assign the file to a specific contact within water and waste to investigate and respond to the resident,” said spokesman Kalen Qually. “All 311 odour complaints are followed up with either an email or phone call to let them know current odour mitigation strategies or the suspected cause of the odour.” 

Air quality or industrial odours complaints are redirected to air quality management at Manitoba Conservation. 

As for retention pond-related issues, the city says it’s limited in what it can do.

“Mitigation strategies are typically not very effective when odours are detected coming from retention ponds. Where and when possible, staff may attempt to seal manholes or flush the land drainage sewer mainline,” Qually said.

Fall tends to be a peak period for retention pond issues. The city isn’t sure why but says large geese populations exacerbate problems. It can take up to three weeks for the retention pond odours to subside, Qually said. Sooner if the ice gets to it first.

Perhaps people shouldn’t be surprised the ponds stink.

Their explicit purpose, the city states, is to: “collect and store runoff to keep our sewer system from being overloaded, allowing it to work more efficiently; accommodate large water fluctuations, like those that occur during snow melt or heavy rains; act as a natural filter to help remove pollutants like fertilizers, automotive oils, street salt or animal waste from land and street runoff, prior to it entering into local rivers and streams.”

Sewage, animal waste and road debris combined smells, well, like what it is.

Sewage releasing events “are usually the result of something unanticipated, like a water main break or a power outage. When sewer operations are disrupted, the sewage can be released into the environment (rivers), which helps protect public health and prevent property damage like basement flooding,” the city website says.

Waverley West, located near the Brady Road 4R depot, was the only ward with landfill-specific complaints. Even then, just five complaints were registered in three years.

The city says it works hard to monitor and manage scents at the south end dump.

Three times a week, city staff complete “odour rounds,” using a hydrogen sulfide gas analyzer to measure smells.

“If it’s verified that the odour is coming from the landfill, then staff look at further mitigation steps on-site (such as) applying more cover, wood chips,” Qually said.

But the direction of the wind — which can whip up stink — is out of city control.

February 2020 was the only month with no odour complaints on record.

katrina.clarke@freepress.mb.ca

Katrina Clarke

Katrina Clarke
Reporter

Katrina Clarke is an investigative reporter with the Winnipeg Free Press.

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