After four days of being shut off from its normal supply of water due to an oil spill into the North Saskatchewan River, the Muskoday First Nation has declared a state of emergency.
The move was announced Wednesday afternoon when officials said the “discontinued supply of water” required “prompt action.”
About 800 band members live on the reserve, which is about 15 kilometres south of Prince Albert, Sask. The community is one of several in the area which is connected to a rural water utility that is normally supplied from Prince Albert’s water treatment plant.
That facility’s intake pipe was closed due to an oil spill upstream, reported by Husky Energy last week. Prince Albert is working to build an improvised water pipeline to an alternate supply of water.
“Even though we’re able to manage the crisis at the moment, we don’t know how long this is going to persist,” Muskoday’s chief, Carl Austin Bear, said Wednesday night. “We just want to be prepared … to meet the crisis.”
After Sunday’s shutdown, the reserve turned to a private contractor with a large water tanker for help. That, combined with its own water tanker trucks, allowed Muskoday to maintain some supplies in reservoirs.
Bear said Wednesday that Husky Energy has also promised to begin making water deliveries.
“We believe, from the arrangement — that was assured — the trucks could begin delivering as early as this evening and for certain tomorrow morning,” Bear said.
According to Bear, an arrangement had been made on Tuesday for the province to provide water assistance to the community.
“Late yesterday that arrangement fell apart,” Bear said. “I don’t think we can put much reliance on the province.”
Bear said community members have responded well to requests to reduce consumption, estimating that use was down by about 40 per cent.
“People are nervous,” he added, noting that the quality of water they do have is safe to drink. He said bottled water is also being made available to older people in the community.
“The bottled water is delivered to the elders’ homes,” he said.
Bear said that as soon as he heard about the Husky Energy spill last week, he expected there would be an effect on communities that rely on the river.
Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne said the resumption of water supplies to the rural areas would have to wait until his city has its water source in place.
“We are doing our best and our priority is, once we get this pumping system set up on Friday, we hope to get enough volume that they will be the priority to turn the water back on,” Dionne said Wednesday morning.
Bear said he has spoken to Dionne and understands that Prince Albert’s priority is to provide water to its citizens.