On August 5, the City announced that rural subscribers in the RM of Prince Albert and the RM of Buckland would also be reconnected to the city water supply after it was decided there was sufficient water flow to bring all area customers back online. This included residents in nearby trailer parks and those who use the municipal water crane. Last week, the City announced that the Saskatchewan Penitentiary and civic facilities, including spray parks and paddling pools, would also reopen.
The news was welcomed by both residents and business owners, especially those who were forced to shut down following the Husky Energy oil spill into the North Saskatchewan River July 20. The spill caused some 250,000 litres of oil to leach into the river, prompting the City of Prince Albert to close the water intake valve and enact a local state of emergency and water conservation bylaw.
The City shut off water service to the Prince Albert Rural Water Utility and worked to bring two alternate pipelines online, sourcing from the South Saskatchewan River and the Little Red River north of the City.
Still, RM residents were without water for several days while municipal officials worked to find other ways to get water. Norma Sheldon, Reeve of the RM of Prince Albert, said the RM was able to get water trucked in from other areas including Saskatoon, Waskesiu, Tisdale, St. Louis and Choiceland. Sheldon said residents in the RM did what they could to conserve supplies, with between 20 and 55 per cent conservation on various lines around the RM.
While the situation was taxing, Sheldon said residents had staff watching pumps in the RM around the clock and support from neighbouring municipalities. Along with claims from residents for water, Sheldon said some farmers would likely make claims for lost crops, adding that the RM had had good communications with Husky Energy.
Some businesses, such as 6th Avenue Car Wash, were forced to shut down to comply with the water conservation bylaw.
6th Avenue Car Wash owner Shelley Gordon said the uncertainty of the situation was difficult. Gordon had to lay off 15 members of her staff, and wasn’t sure when she could tell them they could return to work. Another eight staff members, who worked on the vehicle detailing side of the business at Uniglass Plus Ziebart, saw work slow down and spent time distributing promotional flyers in and around the community.
Only a year in, Uniglass Plus Ziebart is still in the growth stage, Gordon added. Still, Gordon tried to find some bright spots in the situation, posting this picture on the business’ Facebook page during the closure.
“It’s thousands of dollars in lost revenue,” she said. “You do what you have to do, you put your own money into it.”
The water situation also affected businesses such as Gray’s Funeral Chapel, where conservation efforts meant the chapel could not offer water cremation services. Owner Drew Gray started the first water cremation service, or alkaline hydrolysis, in Canada three years ago and it has been very well received. But, the process requires between 160 and 180 gallons of water, and conservation efforts meant it could not be offered to families who requested it.
“It’s a very gentle process and one that is gentle on the environment as it doesn’t emit emissions from burning fuel,” he said. “We’re dealing with it, and we all had to make adjustments.”
Gray has been in touch with claims representatives for Husky to discuss compensation for lost revenue stemming from the oil spill.
At the Prince Albert Travelodge, General Manager Mona Selanders said staff filled a 100-gallon tank and stored clean pails with water for washing vegetables and fruit and then reusing the water for plants. Staff made as much ice as possible before the water intake valve was closed and made sure to wash only full loads to insure water was not being wasted.
The water restrictions were not too onerous to work under, Selanders added, and staff will continue to conserve water throughout the hotel.
“Life just went on ... I don’t think we’ll really change much,” Selanders added.
With the water restrictions over, the City has begun the claim process to recoup millions of dollars in costs related to the oil spill. The City has hired Deloitte to assist with the claims process and the City says initial meetings with Husky Energy have been positive. The City says the claim will include costs related to staffing and overtime, contractor salaries, materials and equipment used to connect the two alternate water pipelines and salaries for summer staff who had to be laid off from civic facilities.
“It’s a Husky problem, as I say, and Husky will pay … our claim will be quite substantial,” Dionne said at a recent media briefing.
Provincial government officials say it is unlikely all the oil spilled into the river can be cleaned up.