A CBC News investigation uncovered raw, untreated sewage from Redwood Meadows is spilling onto the forest floor on Tsuu T’ina First Nations land.
“It's mind boggling to pump raw sewer onto the land," said Scott Mossop, who works for the company hired to take care of the Calgary bedroom community’s waste.
"I've never seen anything like this before,” he adds.
Normally, Redwood Meadow’s sewage is pumped to a lagoon on Tsuu T'ina land, but the main pipe is blocked.
Redwood Meadow's town manager tells CBC News, the community and its landlord that Tsuu T'ina Nation diverted the flow to reserve land until the pipe is fixed.
Not the first time
The community of nearly 1,200 west of Calgary confirms the raw sewage has spilled onto the forest floor for three weeks.
Last year, untreated waste spilled into the same forest for six weeks, according to the same town official.
Mossop worries about sewage contaminating the Elbow River about 500 metres away.
“It's making it [to the Elbow River],” he says. “It's making it there — has to be."
Mossop isn't alone in his worry.
Nearby rancher Mary Young says the town's sewage has spilled onto her property before.
“This is disgusting, you know, I mean our well is just right over there. I mean there has to be overflow and seepage."
Calgary water expert and lawyer Chris Bolton with Benchmark Laboratories Group says common sense dictates that you don’t put human waste near waterways.
Bolton stresses that the Elbow River is a source of drinking water for the City of Calgary.
“Once you lost containment ... you have no control over what will happen next,” says Bolton who worries about dangerous pathogens getting into Calgary’s drinking water.
Gap in regulation
Bolton adds there is a gap in the regulation.
The province controls municipal waste management but the federal government regulates sewage treatment on First Nations land.
“We need a single ‘go-to’ one agency to regulate water," Bolton told CBC News.
Mossop says he tried to warn provincial and federal officials.
The Tsuu T'ina First Nation and federal government did not officially respond to CBC’s requests for information about the sewage.
Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith calls the situation very concerning.
"This is one of the difficulties that you have when you have different jurisdictions responsible for different areas," she said.
Bruce McAllister, the Wildrose MLA for the area, called the spill "incredibly serious." He spoke with the fire chief of Redwood Meadows Tuesday morning.
"We have concerns obviously if that's making its way into the river," he said. "So I understand from Tsuu T'ina today, from a phone voice mail message because I haven't been able to speak directly with him, that they have a crew on scene and they are trying to fix it — and from our stand point, the sooner the better."
The province calls the sewage spill a federal matter, but McAllister wants the province to get involved.
"I'd like all sides to recognize the severity of this problem and sit down and say 'How do we fix this problem guys.' It's not about who broke it but how do we fix it," he said.
The Tsuu T'ina Nation says the broken pipe will be cleaned up within the week.
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