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Liberals hand U of S $77.8 million for massive water research program
Alex MacPherson, Saskatoon StarPhoenix September 6, 2016
A new $143.7-million water research program could have “vast” economic benefits for Saskatchewan by allowing scientists to predict and citizens to prepare for floods, droughts and towering summer storms, according to its associate director.
“If we go back in history, every civilization has been built upon its ability to manage its water successfully, and when civilizations have collapsed, it’s because they failed to do so,” University of Saskatchewan hydrologist John Pomeroy told reporters.
“The deserts of the world are full of ruined cities — they got it wrong. We don’t intend to be one of them, so this will help us move in the right direction, I think.”
The U of S-led Global Water Futures project will employ almost 400 researchers in Saskatoon and at partner schools — Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., the University of Waterloo and McMaster University — as well as institutions worldwide.
The federal government has pledged to pay for about half of the project through a $77.8 million Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) grant, one of eight handed out at coordinated events across the country on Tuesday morning.
Over the project’s seven-year lifespan, the U of S will contribute $17.5 million from “many sources” in its budget, according to its president, Peter Stoicheff. Additional funds will come from other universities and industry partners.
Besides potentially saving property and lives from environmental disasters, the project’s data-driven modelling approach could also improve the economy’s ability to cope with a changing climate over the next several decades, Pomeroy said.
“There are direct economic benefits to knowing what’s going to happen, (such as) farmers having a better understanding of what the soil and moisture conditions will be, or field flooding or the incidents of snow and frost.”
Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale — whose arrival at the announcement was ironically delayed by fog — said severe weather driven by climate change means research into water and weather systems is crucial.
“The damages that we will save by better controlling the water flow and the profit that we can make in a more diversified agricultural sector, the payback will dwarf the initial investment (and) return it to Saskatchewan, to Canada many, times over,” he said.
Since its launch, CFREF has handed out 13 grants, of which two have gone to the U of S. The first, a $37.2 million package announced last month, will fund the university’s new Designing Crops for Global Food Security program.
The awards reflect the federal government’s confidence in the U of S to conduct research that will have practical benefits for countless people around the world, Stoicheff told reporters on Tuesday.
Holly Annand, a U of S PhD student whose research concentrates on the influence of agriculture on prairie water systems, said the project will allow her and other researchers to answer vital questions about the reality of climate change.
“What are we going to do in the future and how are we going to make decisions to best manage our water going forward? I think a lot of that need is now front and center,” she said.
Bonterra Energy cleaning up after pump jack falls into Washout Creek
Reid Southwick, Calgary Herald August 29, 2016
Bonterra Energy Corp. said its crews are in the final stages of cleanup after a pump jack fell into a creek southwest of Edmonton, spilling what the company called a small amount of oil and gear fluid.
Heavy rains last week washed out a county road near Drayton Valley, sending waves onto Bonterra’s leased land which eroded under the deluge and caused the pump jack to topple onto nearby Washout Creek.
The Alberta Energy Regulator said it couldn’t confirm how much oil seeped into the creek after the Aug. 23 storm, but noted the company is complying with an environmental protection order to contain the spill, conduct water and soil tests, and mitigate any impacts.
Adrian Neumann, Bonterra’s chief operating officer, said a “minor amount” of gear oil from the pumping equipment leaked into the waterway, while a “small amount” of oil was observed in the creek near the well Saturday.
“We sucked up all of the fluid around the well and contained it with booms,” Neumann said, adding all samples taken downstream of the spill have so far tested clean.
Crews diverted the creek around the spill site, removed the pump jack and began plugging the well. The company said it is wrapping up its emergency response and cleanup.
Water Security Agency 'hopeful' water intakes shuttered by Husky spill can reopen before winter
Alex MacPherson, Saskatoon StarPhoenix August 26, 2016
Three cities forced to shut down their water treatment plant intakes after a Husky Energy Inc. oil spill will have to rely on secondary water sources for at least another month.
However, the provincial agency responsible for ensuring drinking water safety in Saskatchewan is optimistic that North Battleford, Prince Albert and Melfort will be able to reopen their intakes before freeze-up.
“I’m hopeful that use of the intakes will be able to resume sometime in the next few weeks,” Water Security Agency spokesman Sam Ferris told reporters on a conference call Thursday morning.
The cities were forced to close their intakes and scramble to establish secondary drinking water sources after one of the Calgary-based company’s pipelines failed on July 20, dumping up to 250,000 litres of heavy crude into the North Saskatchewan River.
The roughly 800 workers — including about 150 members of local First Nations — working to clean up the spill have recovered about 164,000 litres of spilled crude to date, Ministry of Environment spokesman Wes Kotyk told reporters on the call.
Recovery efforts are expected to cease temporarily over the weekend as heavy rainfall in Alberta causes the river to rise about two metres, but the cleanup remains on track, Kotyk said.
“With just over a month left until the anticipated early freeze mark — the date we’re going with is Oct. 1 — Husky and operations feel that it is sufficient time to do the remainder of the shore cleanup once they can get back onto the water,” he said.
On Thursday, the WSA released results of tests conducted on a second batch of water samples pulled from the river this month. One of the 120 new results failed to meet Health Canada’s drinking water guidelines, the WSA said in its report.
Ferris said the WSA’s results are “generally consistent” with those of other organizations testing the water, including the U.S.-based Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health (CTEH), the third-party contractor hired by Husky.
Despite this, water restrictions remain in place. Communities along the North Saskatchewan are still using secondary water sources and people are encouraged to avoid eating fish pulled from the river.
Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne is hedging in case the intake can’t be opened before winter. He said the city of 35,000 is still developing potential long-term solutions, including a heated pipeline and new treatment plant filters.
“We’re going to continue to look at all our options until we have a definite (approval to) go back into the North Saskatchewan from the Water Security Agency,” Dionne said.
The newly-formed Kisiskatchewan Water Alliance Network (KWAN) is waiting on the results of an independent water quality study it commissioned, before offering a verdict on the water quality.
“The independent study may offer both a view and some suggestions than the one that’s just been released hasn’t touched, or it may give us more in-depth information as well about what’s happening,” said Don Kossick, a spokesman for the group.
Tyrone Tootoosis, who helped found KWAN, said the group is dismayed at what it sees as the lack of interest shown by Husky and the provincial government, and that both parties should be more transparent about the effects of industry on the environment.
“We need to ensure that there’s more information made available to the general public about what we haven’t been told — information not only on the industry itself, but the relationship between government and industry,” he said.
Husky spokesman Mel Duvall said the company has “undertaken from the very beginning” to have open lines of communication with affected First Nations, and that meetings with local groups are ongoing.
“It’s a big job, but we’ve taken it up full-on, and we’re not going to stop,” Duvall said of Husky’s commitment to consulting First Nations and other affected groups.
While the cleanup is progressing, it remains unclear what caused the 19-year-old Husky pipeline — one of 8,947 licensed pipelines that cross bodies of water in the province — to fail.
Kotyk said an investigation will examine “all aspects” of the incident, including human error, structural malfunction and design or construction flaws. A Ministry of Economy spokesman said the government won’t speculate until it has all of the information.
Duvall said the energy company is working with the province, and details regarding what caused the incident and how Husky responded to it will be provided “once the report is finalized.”
“It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment before the report is out, and before the province has even seen it,” Duvall said.
Water systems at risk
Matthew McClearn, The Globe and Mail August 29, 2016
Despite an election promise by Justin Trudeau to eliminate boil-water advisories on reserves within five years, data suggest the federal government will fall short of the objective without significant changes in its approach to rectifying problem, Matthew McClearn reports
One-third of First Nations people living on reserves use drinking water systems that threaten their health, an investigation by The Globe and Mail has found.
Roughly 57,000 people living on 101 reserves across Canada obtain water from treatment plants and pipe networks the government deem to be “high risk,” an analysis of federal data shows. Although these systems are not necessarily producing unsafe water today – some are, some aren’t – the government fears they could fail under adverse conditions, such as a sudden deterioration in source-water quality. Another 95,000 are served by “medium risk” systems located on 167 reserves.
Combined, that amounts to roughly one-third of the approximately 462,000 people living on reserves – or about 30 communities the size of Walkerton, Ont.
In 2000, bacterial contamination in Walkerton’s water system sickened more than 2,300 people and killed seven. Although the Walkerton tragedy prompted wide-ranging regulatory changes across Canada, this hasn’t resulted in safe water for many reserves. Indeed, many First Nations water systems remain in shambolic condition.
Read the full article and see all of the pictures: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/indigenous-water/article31589755/
More questions than answers about Sanikiluaq's water problems: E. coli detected in hamlet office, coliform bacteria found in high school
Sima Sahar Zerehi, CBC News August 24, 2016
E. coli recently detected in Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, was found in the hamlet office not in the community's water source — though it's not clear exactly where it was in the office or how it got there.
There are still many questions about the issues with tap water in the hamlet, but the territorial government says answers are coming.
Earlier this week residents in Sanikiluaq were warned about the presence of E. coli in two locations. And in July every home in the community was outfitted with a reverse osmosis filtration system because of high levels of sodium in the community's water.
"There have been no reported illness in the community associated with the water," said Wanda Joy, an environmental health specialist with the Nunavut government.
The territory has still not said why sodium levels were so high, but a spokesperson for Community and Government Services (CGS) said that an outside consultant was hired to investigate the issue and file a report.
That report is now in the hands of territorial staff for review -- apparently its findings will be made available to the public soon.
Bacteria in high school
A test also showed traces of other coliform bacteria in Paatsaali High School, but there was no E. coli at this site.
Like E. coli, coliform bacteria can be found in feces. While coliforms are not usually the cause of serious illness, their presence is used to indicate that other pathogens may be present, including disease-causing bacteria, viruses and parasites.
To contain the spread of the bacteria, the fountain at the high school has been turned off. The hamlet office has also been examined and there are no longer signs of contaminants.
Nunavut government staff test water in communities across the territory for bacteria on a weekly basis and samples are sent for lab testing, according to CGS.
The tests are done at the water source, all public buildings, the water delivery trucks and equipment.
Joy said to her knowledge there is no connection between the water filtration systems and the presence of E. coli in the community's water.
The hamlet also had a boil water advisory in the summer of 2014 after E. coli was detected.
Waiting for test results
Joy said the boil water advisory is a precautionary measure put in place while the GN investigates the problems and what may be causing them.
"More water samples have been taken and are being sent in for analysis," she said.
It's unclear when the results will be available, she said, pointing to factors such as flight schedules into the community.
E. coli refers to a large group of bacteria commonly found in lakes and streams, and all mammals including humans have the bacteria in their intestinal tracts.
"During routine sampling, they're used as our indicator organisms. When we get a hit with E. coli it indicates that there could be a problem with the system," said Joy.
She wouldn't elaborate on what kinds of problems the detection of E. coli in tap water could mean.
Most strains of E. coli are harmless, but some types can make people sick with severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.
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