Proposed wastewater lagoon on Hutterite colony raises concerns

A proposed wastewater lagoon on a Hutterite colony development in Manitoba’s Interlake is raising concerns from some in the area who worry it could impact the health of Lake Winnipeg.

The proposed lagoon is part of the Crystal Spring Hutterite Colony development in the Rural Municipality of Armstrong, about 10 kilometres southwest of Gimli.

Victor Kleinsasser, the secretary of the colony, told CTV News the lagoon would manage the waste for a new development of 250 people as well as an abattoir – an animal slaughterhouse.

“It’s not a commercial abattoir,” Kleinsasser said. “We sometimes butcher chickens, mostly for our own use.”

According to documents for the development, the lagoon would be designed to discharge into the nearby road drain and then into Willow Creek. It will then travel about 15 km through the creek before entering Lake Winnipeg.

“This lagoon is being built up to modern best standards,” Kleinsasser said, adding the colony has hired Brandon-based engineering firm Burns Maendel. “They’re not cutting any corners.”

However, the project has faced opposition from some in the community who are worried about the lagoon’s potential environmental impact.

“They’re going to be contributing to an unmanageable situation and pushing pollution straight into our Lake Winnipeg and our fish habitat,” said Bill Buckels, who has been a commercial fisher on Lake Winnipeg for the past 20 years.

He said in the time he’s fished Lake Winnipeg, he has seen the quality of the water go from bad to worse.

“It looks like poop, it smells like poop and it is poop,” he said. Buckels fears this lagoon would add to the problem.

It is a concern shared by Rick Gergatz, who runs the Lake Winnipeg Report Facebook group and has spent his entire life fishing recreationally on the lake.

“It’s getting worse every year. The algae is getting worse every year, and the problem isn’t going away,” he said.

Gergatz worries the lagoon will lead to increased nutrients and phosphorus leaking into the lake causing more algae blooms.

He said there are other options to deal with wastewater other than a basic lagoon – such as using ultraviolet light to break down the grey water.

“I want to make it clear. I’m not against the development, but it can be done properly,” he said.

It is not just citizens in the area. Kate Basford, the Reeve for the Rural Municipality of Armstrong, told CTV News that council has some concerns.

“It is an area that is prone to flooding,” Basford said.

The reeve said the municipality has met with the colony to raise some concerns and asked about the possibility of moving the location of the lagoon. However, she said since the land was sold to the colony by the previous council in 2020, the RM has no authority in the matter.

The fate of the lagoon rests with the provincial Environmental Approvals Branch.

A provincial spokesperson told CTV News the Department of Environment and Climate Change is aware of the concerns surrounding the proposed lagoon, and confirmed the project is currently undergoing an environmental assessment.

“If licensed, the treated wastewater will be monitored to ensure it meets Manitoba’s water quality standards before being discharged to the drain that flows into Willow Creek and Lake Winnipeg,” the spokesperson told CTV News in an email.

The public does still have an opportunity to have their say on the project. A notice from the provincial Environmental Approvals Branch said those affected by the proposal are able to submit their comments to the branch.

The deadline to do so has been extended to Nov. 30, a provincial spokesperson told CTV News.

Basford confirmed the RM will be making submissions to the branch about their concerns with the lagoon.

“We are kind of asking questions to ensure that everything is done properly,” she said.

Kleinsasser said the colony is following all provincial wastewater guidelines so they don’t pollute the lake.

“We do not want to jeopardize the water of the lake in any way,” he told CTV News, adding they enjoy fishing on the lake as well.

“We’re not expecting to, in any way, negatively affect the lake.”

More details about the lagoon project can be found online

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