A Brokenhead River cottage owner has launched a legal challenge in a bid to halt Beausejour’s plans to dump heavy wastewater from a new treatment plant into a channel that has many rare species, and is a popular spot for swimming and fishing.

“You don’t dump garbage in your neighbour’s backyard,” said Aliza Delwar, a self-described environmentalist who lives part-time at a residence near the River’s Edge Golf Course.

Delwar is seeking a judicial review of Manitoba’s decision to approve the town of Beausejour’s proposal to upgrade its water system — which involves dumping reject minerals, metals and organics into the nearby river — to serve its growing population.

If things go ahead as planned, the $12.4-million site will open later this year using a purification process called “reverse osmosis.”

The method filters liquid through a microporous membrane to separate usable water and concentrate. The latter, which Delwar likened to garbage, is slated to be dumped into the Brokenhead River.

The blueprint has sparked outrage from local ecologists, scientists and residents — many of whom are worried about the concentrate’s impact on water composition, wildlife and area wells. Some have suggested operators build a lagoon in lieu of using the river for dumping.

Eva Pip, a retired professor of water quality and toxicology at the University of Winnipeg, estimates 67 Olympic-sized swimming pools of wastewater will enter the waterway annually.

Pip wrote an extensive report that concluded the process will negatively impact endangered soft-water species and contribute nitrogen and phosphorus to Lake Winnipeg.

Municipal and provincial officials have repeatedly dismissed concerns about the dumping site located approximately three kilometres east of Beausejour, near homes, cottages and a seasonal campground in the rural municipality of Brokenhead.

Delwar is alleging that due-diligence was lacking in the approval process.

The complainant, who is being represented by Winnipeg attorney Alexander Krush, is ultimately seeking an appeal overturning the environmental approval branch’s work on this project.

The defendants named in the lawsuit include: the town awaiting a new water treatment plant; the rural municipality of Brokenhead; the director of Manitoba’s environmental approvals branch; the environment minister; and the government of Manitoba.

None of them, including mayor Ray Schirle, Reeve Brad Saluk and Environment Minister Kevin Klein, provided comment on the case.

“I’m not against them having a treatment plant, but their decision to dump this into the river is a horrible idea. It’s just going to change the whole ecosystem, it’s going to change the chemistry of the river,” Delwar said.

The complainant and her neighbours will not benefit from the water treatment plant; they must pay to operate individual wells and ensure personal runoff does not harm the channel.

Delwar sought to challenge the licence for the water supply system in late 2020 through then-environment minister Sarah Guillemard.

In the spring of 2021, Guillemard indicated she was “confident” in the oversight of the project and dismissed Delwar’s request.

“The environment will be protected and maintained. This includes provisions for monitoring groundwater levels and groundwater quality in nearby wells, and similar monitoring in the Brokenhead River,” the minister wrote in a response.

Delwar said she is not optimistic the monitoring will be rigorous.

In the fall, when construction workers were installing pipes that will pour the treatment plant’s runoff into the river, she tested water quality near the dumping site.

The cottage owner said she detected worrying levels of a chemical compound that is harmful to fish. Despite reporting the polyacrylamide pollution to local and federal authorities, she said there was little follow-up.

Brokenhead Ojibway Nation’s band office indicated it did not have enough information to weigh-in on the plans.

“We need more consultation with our community,” Chief Gordon Bluesky said in a statement. “The town hasn’t reached out at all.”

Construction on the project is well underway. The new plant is anticipated to open in autumn.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter