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Project combating human waste on northern Saskatchewan river

The number of Urine Diverting Vermicomposting Toilets installed through a project in northern Saskatchewan is up to two but work is being done to add more.
The number of Urine Diverting Vermicomposting Toilets installed through a project in northern Saskatchewan is up to two but work is being done to add more. Saskatchewan Parks / Facebook

The number two may represent how many composting toilets are installed along the Churchill River in northern Saskatchewan, but more work is being done.

Joe Milligan, a paddling enthusiast with the Ministry of Parks, said he’s found a problem with human waste in many northern areas of the province.

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“I’ve been canoeing there since the early 80s and I’ve seen more and more travellers from places like Ontario, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin. And in my conversations with these individuals, they say the reason we come to Churchill is because it’s not crowded like some of the popular areas in Eastern Canada or the United States,” Milligan said on Wednesday.

“We literally have a world-class destination that we really need to look after, not only for this present time but also for future generations.”

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He said the Churchill River Water Trail Legacy Project has a big challenge looking after remote high-use sites.

“Sometimes you’re going to get anywhere from maybe 15-20 centimetres to up to maybe a half-a-metre at the most of topsoil before you hit bedrock. So when a toilet gets full, which oftentimes will happen very quickly, you more or less have to dig a new hole and move it because there’s no other choice,” Milligan said.

“Because of the number of people going to the bathroom … let’s just say it’s an extremely bad problem and when you do talk to people, (they say) it’s not only the smell.

“I think there is a genuine health concern for humans as well as a genuine concern for the natural environment.”

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University of Regina researchers looking into invasive fish species
University of Regina researchers looking into invasive fish species

After extensive research, Milligan found a solution using Urine Diverting Vermicomposting Toilets (UDVT) which are manufactured by Toilet Tech Solutions.

The technology separates urine and fecal matter to allow composting to naturally occur and has been proven in the field, according to Milligan.

Initially, the goal was to put two UDVTs along the Churchill River.

The first UDVT was boated in and assembled in August at Little Stanley, just east of Stanley Mission. Another soon followed at Robertson Falls not far from Grandmother’s Bay in September.

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“The second (UDVT), because of staff shortages and everything else, we were able to get an extremely good price for a helicopter,” Milligan said.
“The second (UDVT), because of staff shortages and everything else, we were able to get an extremely good price for a helicopter,” Milligan said. Saskatchewan Parks / Facebook

The project continues to press on with a team of partners working to raise funds for the toilets, which cost about $5,200 each.

“Where Barker Island is, is probably the most popular destination on the Churchill River. You can see probably 300-plus people sometimes going there for a single week … so obviously, the river faces a big challenge,” Milligan said.

“The goal is to put one or two on Barker Island at least and then, should the opportunity present itself, try to put a few more in the area.”

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“It was about creating a better visitor experience. It was about creating a clean environment, preserving the Churchill not only for people visiting but also for the people that have been living there for hundreds, if not thousands of years,” he added.

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“First Nations have been using this area for thousands of years and this is their backyard. And so when they’re heading out to the fish camp or going out for the weekend, these areas are like a stopover, so I think it’s important to protect that area out of respect for those who have come before us.”

People can donate to the project by visiting the Saskatchewan Trails Association.