Broken pipe in Bridgewater dumping raw sewage into LaHave River

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Broken pipe in Bridgewater dumping raw sewage into LaHave River

Raw sewage from more than a thousand homes on the west side of Bridgewater, N.S., has been flowing into the LaHave River since Thursday when a century-old discharge pipe broke.

The town's mayor, David Mitchell, said the problem won't be fixed until the middle of next week. 

Town staff don't have the ability to repair the pipe, he said, so engineers need to be brought in after the long weekend, and it could take a few days to fix.

"We're trying to be good stewards of the environment so when something like this happens it just breaks our heart because we're trying so hard to do the right thing," Mitchell told CBC News on Saturday.

Mitchell blames aging infrastructure and said despite recent upgrades to the downtown, council doesn't have the funds to replace all the pipes that are starting to show their age. 

When the pipe broke on Thursday, it flooded an unmanned pumping station right by the river near the corner of King and Dufferin streets.

Mitchell said sewage from nearly half the homes in the town is going into the river. 

In a public advisory released Friday, the town said there's minimal risk to people's health.

"We're glad it's the winter when there's no boat traffic, there's no one kayaking or canoeing down river or no sailboats in the water right now," Mitchell said. 

"Because it's a tidal river and there is salt water there, it's a little better than if it was going into a lake, so it does eventually work its way out to sea where it dissipates more quickly."

But Shanna Fredericks, assistant director with Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation, said the sewage won't dissipate immediately.

The biggest risk is oxygen depletion, which can lead to fish kills, or too many nutrients from bacteria causing algae blooms, she said. 

"If you are going to say walk your dog along the shorelines and they're sort of sniffing around in the seaweed on the beach or something, there is still a risk to human health there," she said. 

Fredericks said the average three bedroom home discharges 1,000 litres of wastewater a day, which means millions of litres of untreated wastewater could potentially flow into the river every day the pipe is broken. 

Stella Bowles, a student who lives along the river and has been calling attention to pollution caused by straight pipes, said it's "a huge setback."

"It should be fixed right away. There shouldn't be any waiting ... with all the toilet paper and everything that people flush down their toilets, it should not be in our river," said Bowles.

The town contacted the Nova Scotia Department of Environment right away, Mitchell said, and he doesn't expect to have to pay fines.​

Chrissy Matheson, a spokesperson for the department, said it is aware of the problem and "working with the town to bring them into compliance." 

'We need to replace these pipes'

"This was not negligence," Mitchell said. "This was a failure of a piece of infrastructure, so it's not like we knew this was going to happen or we were doing other work that caused this through some fault of our own."

Mitchell estimates it could cost around $20,000 to fix the broken pipe, but with most of the town's infrastructure as old as the 119-year-old town itself, it could be a sign of things to come. 

Small towns like Bridgewater don't have millions of dollars just sitting around in case of emergencies like this, he said. 

"It's not an upside to what's happened, but at least we can go back to [the provincial and federal governments] and say, see this is what's happened. You need to help us because we need to replace these pipes," he said.