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Saskatchewan’s Uranium City seeks funding to end 20-year water advisory

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Saskatchewan is trying to secure $1.7 million in federal funds to end drinking water issues that have plagued the former mining hamlet of Uranium City for 20 years, a new auditor’s report says.

The Ministry of Government Relations is seeking the funds to overhaul Uranium City’s weathered water treatment plant, where maintenance and required testing are often not meeting standards, according to Judy Ferguson, provincial auditor of Saskatchewan.

The Ministry engaged an engineering firm to develop a scope of work for necessary water treatment plant upgrades.

Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency issued a precautionary drinking water advisory for Uranium City in May 2001, and an emergency boil water advisory in February 2015, both of which remain in place. The advisories note that the Uranium City water treatment plant lacks minimum water treatment processes. It has inadequate disinfection residual in the distribution system and E.coli has been detected in the drinking water system.

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Copper selenide minerals were discovered in the area in 1949, and Uranium City, near the border with the Northwest Territories, had thrived until its mines were shuttered in 1982. Whereas it once had a population of nearly 5,000, less than a hundred people currently live there.

The new report is the third follow-up audit of actions on the recommendations made by the auditor in 2012. The Minister of Government Relations functions as the municipal council for each of the northern settlements in the province.

While the province awaits word on new funding for upgrades, the auditor’s report notes that some progress has been made for the facility. In August 2017, the ministry upgraded Uranium City’s water distribution and sewer systems to improve performance and reliability.

Testing has also improved. In 2018, just 1.4% of daily and 25% of bi-monthly tests were not completed in accordance with related permits, the audit states. While that number has improved significantly, the audit’s testing still found various deficiencies in documenting or completing water quality tests.

The new auditor’s report also noted significant outstanding maintenance for the Uranium City water treatment plant, including valve repair and replacement. Additionally, Uranium City had a new operator between May and November 2020, who was not properly trained to complete the logs as expected, the auditor wrote.

Another northern Saskatchewan settlement, Brabant Lake, has had water quality issues since 2018 due to “equipment failure or damage.” The settlement’s treatment facility is currently being upgraded at an estimated cost of $1.5 million.

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