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Prince Albert’s Water, Oil Pipelines, and the Precautionary Principle

The City of Prince Albert in , has secured emergency water supply after almost two weeks of no water following an oil spill in the North Saskatchewan River by Husky Oil. Three different sources

A 30km temporary water line was installed from the South Saskatchewan River to the City’s water treatment plant, and another waterline connects the Little Red River to the treatment plant. Stormwater retention ponds are being filled as a backup supply if needed.

The event that caused this municipal nightmare was a 200,000 litre oil and thinning chemical spill into the North Saskatchewan River neat Maidstone, Sask, upstream of Prince Albert on July 20, 2016. The emergency service is truly just a temporary system, with mains laid on the ground, down road curb lines and across fields. But with winter any three months away, creativity will be high on the agenda.

As a water utility manager and emergency services director for a small municipality, I believe the staff and consultants working on this emergency are community heroes. The response to restore water to a community of about 40,000 people is an epic task requiring the cooperation of many jurisdictions and residents.

Husky Oil has been working hard on the clean up, drawing on expertise from across the country,( there are even people from assisting with the effort). Unfortunately it appears that they reported the spill 14 hours after monitoring systems notified possible issues. The City had several day’s notice of the contamination and were able to prepare businesses and residents of the likely closure of the treatment plant.

The Saskatchewan Government is facing criticism as another spill occured in the prince this week.

Saskatchewan’s Opposition NDP is calling for more government oversight of pipelines after learning of another spill in the province this week.

On Tuesday, 630 barrels of mixed oil and water spilled in farmer’s field northwest of Swift Current, Sask.

“It’s troubling that, once again, the people of Saskatchewan heard about this leak because of the media and not the government,” said interim NDP leader Trent Wotherspoon.

The precautionary principle is often considered the gold standard of environmental risk management, and should be the first consideration in drinking water supply management when considering activities in catchment areas. there are many communities across the world that draw their drinking water from major river systems with heavy industrial activities upstream, whether rail lines transporting oil, coal and chemicals, or pipelines carrying tar sands oil, these communities should consider a long term plan for securing a supply that has a lower risk of contamination.

Meanwhile, governments and oil companies need to ensure their people and systems are prepared to adequately respond to serious events such as this, I’m no clairvoyant, but this is going to happen again.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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