N.S. community completes young activist’s goal to remove sewage pipes from LaHave River

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N.S. community completes young activist’s goal to remove sewage pipes from LaHave River
WATCH: The many years’ worth of activism efforts by a young environmentalist from the Bridgewater area have finally come to fruition. As Megan King reports, the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg is announcing the achievement of a straight-pipe-free LaHave River, after six years of work. – Apr 28, 2023

A clean river is cause for celebration in a community on Nova Scotia’s South Shore.

A ceremony in LaHave marked the achievement of a goal to remove all straight pipes from the LaHave River, a project spearheaded by a young resident for the past eight years.

“I’m so happy that this has come to a close and our beautiful river is becoming clean again and it’s a great day for our community,” said Stella Bowles, who first called for the environmental change as an 11-year-old for a school project.

Straight pipes are an old-fashioned method of sewage disposal that dump sewage directly from a house into a waterway. They are illegal in Nova Scotia but were once common on the LaHave River, a partial tidal river that flows into the LaHave River Estuary, and eventually, the ocean. A 1993 municipal survey identified more than 800 pipes along the estuary.

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The Municipality of the District of Lunenburg announced Friday that 357 septic systems had been installed in homes along the river to replace straight pipes, completing the municipality’s goal to have all pipes removed by March 2023.

Calling it a “wonderful accomplishment for the area,” Mayor Carolyn Bolivar-Getson said she is proud of the co-operation between the community and all the levels of government, calling the success of the program “a true partnership.”

Stella Bowles, 19, is a local activist who pushed for the removal of straight pipes from the LaHave River in Nova Scotia. Sam Farley/Global News

Friday’s ceremony was cause for Bowles to reflect on how far the project has taken her.

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“Being 11 when I started this project, I didn’t really understand how big this was, how big of an accomplishment this would be,” Bowles said, adding that she had first begun the project because she wanted a clean and safe place to swim on the river.

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Since the success of her project, neighbours are noticing the difference.

“The river does smell better in the morning. Our mail lady had even yelled out the window, ‘Thank you, my route in the morning smells so much happier, so much better,’” Bowles said with a laugh.

Former area MP Bernadette Jordan, who used to serve as the fisheries, oceans and Canadian Coast Guard minister, attended Friday’s announcement.

She was one of the original politicians to help Bowles’ project get underway, and called the full removal of straight pipes from the LaHave “a celebration.”

Stella Bowles, centre, is joined by some of the original local and federal politicians who have helped her with the straight pipe project since she was 11. Bernadette Jordan, former MP for the area and federal minister, is pictured to the right. Sam Farley/Global News

“I do live on the ocean but I am on the river quite a bit, and I noticed there’s certain coves that I go through that don’t smell as bad as they used to,” Jordan said.

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Jordan said removal of straight pipes was an issue she campaigned on in 2016, and says it also affects other communities.

“Unfortunately this is a common practice in a lot of rivers around, well, not just Nova Scotia, I think right across the country,” Jordan said.

The municipality last tested water quality levels in 2017 as a baseline, and will test again if voted on by council to determine the effectiveness of straight pipe removal.

Looking forward

While Bowles was jubilant at the celebration, she now sets her sights on legislation. She wants to see houses with straight pipes be required to upgrade to a septic system when they are sold.

“That way every house that’s sold with an illegal straight pipe, that’s one less straight pipe in our beautiful waterway,” Bowles said.

The LaHave River estuary as seen from the site of Friday’s announcement at the Fort Point Museum in LaHave, N.S.

Bolivar-Getson also said there is “more work to be done,” and wants to work with the province on the proposed point-of-sale legislation.

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Becky Druhan, MLA for Lunenburg West, said in an interview following the event that she wants to see action on straight pipes beyond the LaHave.

“I really look forward to talking to Stella about her ideas for how we can expand the success for this project to make sure that Nova Scotians see the benefits across the province,” Druhan said.

Bowles said she is hopeful.

“I have been told that it wasn’t possible, but I’m going to continue pushing because I believe that our government, it’s their role to help the communities and help us come together to be safe, and having a clean waterway is a great way to be safe,” she said.

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