Glacier FarmMedia COVID-19 & the Farm

Husky oil spill hits Prince Albert water supply; farmers also scrambling for alternative sources for livestock

The Diefenbaker Bridge over the North Saskatchewan River in Prince Albert, Sask. Photo: Carolyn Carleton / Wikimedia Commons

Reuters – An oil leak from a Husky Energy Inc pipeline into a major Canadian river has forced a second city in the province of Saskatchewan to stop drawing drinking water, officials said on Monday, widening the impact and cost of the spill.

The heavy oil and diluent leaked from Husky’s Saskatchewan Gathering System pipeline on Thursday, flowing into the North Saskatchewan River, which supplies drinking water to several communities in the western Canadian province.

The oil on Monday reached Prince Albert, a city of 35,000 people, hours earlier than expected. Workers there raced to stretch a 30 km hose to draw drinking water from another source.

A sheen was visible on the river in the morning, spurring the city to shut its water treatment plant intake, said city manager Jim Toye. It has two days worth of stored water before it must find another source.

“We thought we had more time,” Toye said in an interview. “We (will) really hit the wall after two days.”

Efforts to contain the spill failed on Friday after water levels rose. At least 40 per cent of the 1,572 leaked barrels of oil had been recovered as of Sunday.

Further upstream, the city of North Battleford stopped drawing drinking water from the river last week.

Prince Albert officials planned to meet on Monday to consider a law banning residents from watering lawns. A large federal prison in the city has a reservoir to supply itself for two to three days.

Once the city’s stored water is exhausted, Prince Albert hopes to use rainfall collected in a retention pond, buying itself four more days, Toye said. After that it would rely on water from a 12-inch (30 centimeter) diameter hose to the South Saskatchewan River, running along a highway and under vehicle approaches to farmyards.

Farms outside of Prince Albert that rely on city water have had supplies cut off.

Farmer Larry Fladager scrambled to fill a tank from another river to water his cattle and horses.

“It’s a real nuisance. And for some it could become a real health issue,” said Fladager. “Can’t drink, can’t shower, can’t wash your clothes.”

Prince Albert’s water plan covers two months, but Toye said its supply may be strained longer, stretching into the area’s frigid winter.

The cost will run into millions of dollars and the city is “very disappointed” by limited communication and assistance from Husky, Toye said.

A Husky spokesman could not be immediately reached.

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