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230 million litres of raw sewage spewed into the Red River, who is to blame?


191.8 million gallons of raw sewage spewed into the Red River daily for months, who is to blame.
191.8 million gallons of raw sewage spewed into the Red River daily for months

A crisis of significant magnitude emerged in Winnipeg, centred around the steady flow of sewage into the Red River. Once revered for its natural beauty and vitality, the river now faced contamination from a continuous discharge of raw sewage, a situation that persisted for several months. This environmental calamity underscores the need for immediate attention, decisive measures, and utmost accountability from the city’s elected officials.


A ruptured pipe at 3100 Abinojii Mikanah, along Bishop Grandin Boulevard, relentlessly spewed untreated sewage for an extended period of time into the Red River. Despite two attempts at repairs, the flow persisted, with the city estimating a staggering 230 million litres of sewage have contaminated the river between February 7th and its final repair. Such a colossal volume of pollutants not only poses immediate risks to public health but also inflicts long-term damage to the delicate ecosystem of the river.


What is perhaps most alarming is the apparent lack of urgency and accountability from the governmental bodies tasked with safeguarding our environment. While the City of Winnipeg grappled with this crisis, provincial and federal authorities seem conspicuous by their absence. Emergency environmental actions were sorely needed, yet their response was been tepid at best. The question must be asked: why are the rules different when it comes to governmental bodies themselves? If this were a private citizen or a rural community, swift and severe penalties would undoubtedly be enforced.


How many more pumps lurk on the brink of spilling raw sewage into our rivers? What looming dangers threaten our infrastructure, and why are they shrouded in secrecy? The recent closure of the Arlington Bridge due to a lack of foresight raises concerns: How many other bridges are on the edge of shutdown? Just as individuals must prioritize their spending, so too must our elected officials.


Adding insult to injury, the response from City council thus far has been utterly underwhelming. Rather than addressing the root cause of the issue, we are met with feeble suggestions to simply “flush less” and ominous warnings of impending hikes in water and sewage bills. Worse still, the proposed diversion of funds from the profitable water and waste sector to cover unrelated expenses like garbage collection reeks of mismanagement and short-sightedness.


In the business world, such misallocation of resources would be deemed unacceptable. Yet, here we are witnessing our city administration engage in precisely that. By neglecting vital infrastructure and maintenance in favour of pet projects and short-term fixes, they jeopardize not only the environment but also the long-term viability of essential services.


It’s time for a reckoning. Elected officials must be held accountable for their decisions and actions. The abdication of responsibility behind bureaucratic smokescreens cannot be tolerated. Our city deserves leaders with the acumen to make informed decisions, to prioritize the needs of the community over political expediency.


The apathy of the electorate must also be addressed. The dismal turnout at the last election speaks volumes about the disillusionment and disengagement plaguing our democratic process. If we desire change, we must actively participate in shaping it. Holding our representatives accountable starts at the ballot box.


The longer we delay in confronting these kinds of crises head-on, the greater the cost, not only in monetary terms but in irreparable harm to our environment and future generations. Let us not squander this opportunity to demand better from those entrusted with our city’s stewardship. The Red River, and indeed all of Winnipeg, deserve nothing less.


— Kevin Klein is a former Tory cabinet minister, a former city councillor and a former CEO and Publisher with Sun Media.

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