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Water treatment plants working in overdrive

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In the wake of Walkerton, many district residents expressed concern about groundwater contamination due to this week’s flooding.

John Steele, communications director with the Ministry of the Environment, said they are monitoring the situation closely.

“The sewage treatment plant in Fort Frances has to bypass raw sewage into the river so we’re concerned about downstream users like Emo and Rainy River,” Steele said.

“We’ve had discussions with the health unit and we’re ensuring those municipalities will be keeping chlorine residuals up downstream,” he added.

Emo Reeve Russ Fortier said their water treatment plant had shut down automatically overnight Monday, but everything was up and running by Tuesday morning.

“The river is high and the water is dirty,” he said. “It was very difficult to treat the water because the turbidity levels caused the computer [in the treatment plant] to shut down automatically.

“Everything is restabilized again,” he stressed. “The water is dirty but there’s no health hazard.”

Chapple Clerk Doris Dyson said she’s not heard of any complaints of groundwater contamination from people with wells.

“There’s no problem with the water unless your well is flooded from surface contamination but I haven’t heard of any problems,” she remarked yesterday afternoon.

In terms of long-term damage from the flooding, Martin Nantel, manager of the Rainy River First Nations Watershed program, said there might be higher bacteria levels but nothing too serious.

“In terms of potential impact because of the flooding, there’s definitely a high potential for water contamination,” he said. “That could be from overflowing sewers, for example.

“You also have to think that contamination could also be due to land uses—if you have flooding of the beach or farmer’s land that gets washed out, there’ll be a temporary increase in bacteria,” he noted.

Nantel also said that if lagoons in the area are filling up, the excess flow will have to be dumped. There also will be more trees in the river because the soil is so waterlogged that it erodes and can’t hold trees up.

“The drinking water shouldn’t be affected. All municipalities and reserves have to follow regulations,” Nantel added.

“It’s going to be a problem at beaches but I doubt people will be swimming right now, though,” he laughed.

He also said there are other things besides trees floating in the river right now.

“I think there’s obviously all sorts of damage having to do with infrastructure, things like docks. If you want a dock in Baudette you can get one,” he joked.

The worst ecological devastation will be a lower number of smallmouth bass, he predicted.

“This flooding is probably bad for the smallmouth bass. They’re nest-builders and do better at low-water levels,” he said. “This year’s lot is probably lost.”

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