Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency (WSA) said water samples it has taken from the North Saskatchewan River and the Saskatchewan River system meet Canadian and provincial drinking water standards.
These are the first results of ongoing WSA water testing released by the agency following the Husky Energy pipeline oil spill into the North Saskatchewan River in July.
However, WSA officials said exceedances were found under the Canadian protection of aquatic life guidelines.
“The aquatic life guidelines are typically set based on some of the most sensitive animals that are there,” said Tim Jardine, University of Saskatchewan toxicology professor.
One sample had an exceedance of toluene and another of pyrene.
The agency is undertaking a water safety assessment to further evaluate water quality and has asked Husky Energy and other agencies involved in the technical working group specifically dealing with drinking water quality for further data.
This includes knowing where the remaining oil that has not been captured is – whether it has evaporated off, degraded microbiologically, is captured within river bed sediment or is elsewhere.
“Some of those components will evaporate off into the air, they’ll disappear. Others, the heavy bits will end up in the sediment and actually very little of it will stay in the water column,” Jardine said.
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The agency also wants to know what form is the oil in, is it a potential risk to the waterworks, and how will it respond or react to various factors such as flooding, or spring break-up conditions.
It also wants to know what short-term and long-term monitoring program will be required and if additional pre-treatment processes need to be considered for the existing water treatment plants.
“I am fairly optimistic at this point based on the data set that we’ve received; I think it will be in the week’s category, and not the months, ,” said Sam Ferris, executive director of environmental and municipal management services for WSA.
“You have to ask yourself, do you want to contaminate the water treatment plant, how will you de-contaminate it, what are the effects going to be.”
WSA officials said once they have this additional information, it will allow them to make a decision on when the water intakes to treatment plants downstream from the oil spill can be reopened.
Officials said generally, three things need to be in place before that happens:
- there has to be a low risk of oil reappearing in source water;
- if there is a risk of oil reappearing, it can be detected through monitoring and the intakes shut down prior to oil entering the system; and
- water treatment plants can treat oil that may enter the plant.
Upwards of 250,000 litres of oil and other materials leaked from a pipeline near Maidstone, Sask., on July 21, causing a number of communities, including North Battleford and Prince Albert, to shut down water intakes from the river and find alternative sources of water.
Joel Senick contributed to this story