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Unpleasant smell in Niven Lake a headache

City councillors are asking the city to share more public information and to bring in experts to monitor a noxious smell in the Niven Lake area.

Coun. Adrian Bell asked if the city would bring in experts to test the air for “possible impacts of the noxious gases” after a few residents complained of headaches.

Overflows on Back Bay prompted resident concerns of a water leak in March. Avery Zingel/NNSL photo

“Without a doubt, this is causing problems for people. When I'm on that bridge and the smell is right there, I just can't imagine that being in my living room. And that is what I'm hearing from folks.”

Coun. Julian Morse questioned if the city could usher in emergency measures to hire experts to resolve the issue swiftly.

The city is committed to offer public information sessions for residents as early as next week.

The city made three repairs near the legislative assembly building and museum. The are still significant amounts of water coming into the Range Lake area via the Co-op ditch, with overflows pouring over into Back Bay, said Dennis Kefalas, the city's director of public works and engineering.

Noxious odours and unusually large overflow on Back Bay prompted concerns last month there could be a leaking pipe.

In a March 5 news release, the city originally stated that city staff re-inspected sewage stations in Niven, and did not detect any evidence of leaks.

City officials confirmed during a municipal council services meeting Tuesday that it is working to detect leaks that could be impacting Niven Lake water levels and causing water turnover.

The leaks also mean that the water hasn't frozen over entirely, and the water turnover usually seen during spring and fall is happening earlier.

“Hydrogen sulphide, ammonia and methane gas are released into the atmosphere because of water movement and temperature changes,” said Kefalas.

“We do want to confirm that it is not sewage. The smell is the result of high water and some overflow and some leakage that we have coming from some of our pipes,” said senior administrative officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett.

Temperature changes typically cause the foul odour around Niven Lake once or twice a year — during spring and fall as the lake water turns over, said Dennis Kefalas, the city's director of public works and engineering.

“It's a naturally occurring thing that's going on in the lake. We're not really concerned about the concentrations of the gases being released because the lagoon itself hasn't had any loading since the early 1970s. It's just reacting to the sludge that's currently on the bottom of the lake,” said Kefalas.

Bell told council Tuesday that some residents are experiencing headaches and smells wafting into their homes.

“If I'm walking over the high bridge, if there is open water there, the smell is overpowering. When it's covered over when its colder, I don't notice the smell. I know you're suggesting there is not an issue with noxious gases, but that certainly can't be our area of specialization,” said Bell.

The noxious gases are not the city's area of expertise, said Kefalas, but it will look into bringing in experts to test the air in the vicinity of Niven Lake.

“It's hard to determine the sensitivity of different people,” said Kefalas. “Once you get used to something you don't find it as noxious, but some people are more sensitive to certain odours, but we can have someone follow up and test the air.”

In an interview with Yellowknifer, Bell said noxious gases make the water leak a high priority.

“When the director of public works is talking about ammonia and methane gas, we have an obligation to monitor that or work with our partners to monitor that,” said Bell in an interview with Yellowknifer.

“There have been a lot of leaks that we've been aware of into Frame Lake, but the game changes when noxious gases are being released as a result of water leaks. It changes the seriousness of the situation and we have to accord it a higher priority,” he said.

The potential sources of leaks are being monitored through leak detection, said Kefalas. “We try to initiate repairs as soon as we find out where leaks are,” he said.

Bell questioned if council could allocate additional resources to take the summer to tackle an issue “that is impacting households” to avoid a similar scenario next winter.

“In terms of asking for additional resources, we can do whatever council wants,” said Kefalas.

Diverting water and closing water control structures to reduce smells in Niven would put assets like the The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre at risk of flooding, said Kefalas.

“The problem I see right now is the water entering Niven Lake. Once we get control on that, we'll notice the lake will be allowed to freeze over and we won't be experiencing this problem,” said Kefalas.