Quick notice and corrective action by Cat Brothers Oilfield Construction may have just been what saved the company.
The Alix-based company was undertaking excavation along the Battle River for the Town of Ponoka on 49 Street last month when an employee accidentally breached a sewage line with a digger. The break caused the pipe to be blocked and sewage slowly started to come out of a manhole nearby.
The manhole is approximately 150 metres from the river, said co-owner Henri Catellier. No-one noticed the break until town staff saw a drop in pumping levels of Lift Station A, explained CAO Brad Watson.
Staff checked the pasture to the south of the lift station and found water pooling on the land and some trickling into the Battle River, said Watson. “The foreman immediately came to the site.”
When the spill was noticed, Catellier said they contacted Alberta Environment right away. “We didn’t try to hide anything from anybody.”
He believes the water levels were higher than normal at the time of the breach from beaver dams that were recently removed. This may have helped the amount of sewage in the river to have less impact, he explained.
“So then we realized we could get it back online right away,” said Catellier.
Cat Brothers had to order a part that was broken from the excavation but removed the blockage to allow the product to flow through. The temporary fix bought them some time to prevent seepage into the river.
“The rest kind of collected into a pond, because it’s low there,” explained Catellier.
To ensure no more sewage did travel to the river, they also built up a berm with the help of a town staff and a loader. The spill appears to have caused little damage as Tagish Engineering inspected the site and noted little proof of sewage.
“Usually when you have sewage going into the river, there’s bubbling and it was noted there was no bubbling, so we were pleased with that,” explained Watson.
Although it is difficult to say how much sewage spilled into the river, there appears to be some filtering from the pasture land. Staff have discussed ways to ensure they can see telltale signs that there may be issues.
Some of the ideas suggested were for staff to check their surroundings and be aware of any discrepancies in pump flow. Watson said the waterworks department will hold monthly meetings to further town employees’ education.
“This whole contravention situation could have been avoided if all operators understand the importance of their job,” Watson read from the report.
The investigation from Alberta Environment appears to show Cat Brothers did their due diligence in notifying the province as well as working to solve the issue in a timely manner.
“It shouldn’t happen again because we left that little berm there,” said Catellier.
There were no fines for the breach.