More than 400,000 litres of untreated sewage flowed into the LaHave River over a three-hour period after piping failed inside one of Bridgewater's pump stations.
Provincial and federal environment officials were notified of the December 13, 2020 incident. The issue with the 30-year-old piping caused the south LaHave Street building, known as pump station no. 3, to flood. It damaged electrical equipment as well as caused wastewater to dispense into the parking lot, according to Audrey Buchanan, the town's environmental services manager.
"In the process of trying to isolate the leak, the main valve into the station failed, forcing staff to complete an emergency shut off of [two pump stations] which resulted in sanitary sewer discharge into the LaHave River for approximately three hours," Buchanan explained in a written report to civic politicians. The town council reviewed the report during a January 25 regular meeting. "The piping and valving within this building is all the same age and condition so given the failures it is expected additional similar failures will occur soon," added Buchanan.
Patrick Hirtle, a spokesman for the town, confirmed to LighthouseNOW that about 413,000 litres emptied into the river.
Fearing a similar problem on the horizon, wastewater treatment plant officials requested and received $180,000 in emergency funding from the town January 25 so piping and valving within the pumping station in question could be fixed in the short-term.
Beyond the biohazard and environmental issues, the flooding also impacts a 600-volt electrical service in the same room as the pump, Buchanan added in her report.
"It is imperative to replace the internal piping at this station on a priority basis at a minimum on the pump side of the building to ensure the station can be isolated from the force main between the east and west side of the river," an option compromised due to the events of December, Buchanan explained.
"In future additional pipe and valve replacement will also be required on the wet well side of the building but this is a much more complicated repair that will need significant funding."
Bridgewater's mayor thanked staff for quickly addressing the equipment failure. "I know teams are right on it, and redirected and did everything they could to minimize the impact on the environment," David Mitchell said during council's January 25 discussion. "I do know that when these things happen it's as upsetting to the staff as it is to the public; nobody wants to put anything in the river."
Mitchell took to social media a day later to address the matter.
"It would be easy to simply point fingers towards past inadequate infrastructure funding or lay blame on a pipe that should have ... given us much more life. The reality is, however, that this failure happened under our watch and so, as mayor, I take ownership of it," he wrote online.
Mitchell said the funding sanctioned January 25 is a starting point on a permanent solution with immediate effect, including "replacement of all piping and valves in the impacted pump stations," and "design work to give staff the ability to isolate the two pump stations and better redirect flow."
Bridgewater is among municipalities facing deadlines years from now to meed specific sewer system standards set out by the federal government. Mitchell said it amounts to a "$50 million overhaul of our system over the next 15 years or so."
The challenges of short timelines, old systems and available funding impact the Main Street of the South Shore and other local governments across the country, the mayor added.