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Environment

A Saskatchewan River Oil Spill Is About to Cut off Another Town’s Main Water Supply

A Husky Energy pipeline dumped an estimated 200,000 litres of crude into North Saskatchewan River. Efforts to contain it aren't going so well.

by Sarah Berman
Jul 24 2016, 6:24pm

Water, water, everywhere... Prince Albert photo via Wikimedia Commons

An oil spill into a Saskatchewan river is a causing another town to shut off its water intake this weekend, and residents are being asked to dramatically cut back their water use.

A Husky Energy pipeline dumped an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 litres of crude into North Saskatchewan River on Thursday, and so far efforts to contain the spill aren't going well. What started in Maidstone a few kilometres from the Alberta border is now expected to travel over 300 kilometres downstream by tonight.

The company attempted to put booms around the spill, but downstream towns have released emergency notices saying those containment efforts were "breached." That's a problem for many nearby communities that draw their drinking water from the river. One official told VICE it could be up to two months before Prince Albert or North Battleford can confidently draw water from the river again.

North Battleford, a town of about 14,000 people, shut down its river water intake on Friday. The town's reservoirs can store about three days' worth of water supply, after which they'll have to dip into groundwater, the city's director of operations told the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix.

Now the spill is headed for Prince Albert, where officials are asking its 35,000 residents to "remain calm" and "do their part to limit personal water usage." The city is expected to shut off its river intake later today.

The town released a statement saying it had enough storage capacity for 48 hours of potable water, and could extend that to a week by using a "secondary retention pond." The release calls on individuals to limit flushing and shower use, and to stop watering lawns and washing vehicles "until further notice." The municipality has shut down its irrigation systems, a water crane, and a water park as a precaution.

Prince Albert communications manager Alanna Adamko told VICE they're prepping for a long cleanup. "We've been hearing that oil has been not only affecting water but also the lining of the river banks as it's coming down," Adamko said. "We're planning for up to a two-month cleanup before we would be fully confident to use the North Saskatchewan River."

Adamko said the town would be announcing long-term alternatives at an afternoon press conference.

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