Raw sewage dumped into Winnipeg’s Red River to offload pressure on sewer system during storm

City crews had to divert almost 60 million litres of raw sewage into the Red River after a weekend storm pushed wastewater infrastructure to the limit. Mark Neufeld reports.

By Mark Neufeld

Almost 60 million litres of raw sewage were released into Winnipeg’s Red River after a weekend of heavy rainfall threatened to overwhelm sewer systems and water treatment plants in the city.

Chris Carroll, the manager of wastewater services, says last weekend’s rain storm required a large outflow of sewage to be diverted into the river late Saturday night to early Sunday morning.

Carroll says the volume of water entering treatment plants from the storm was the most it’s been in 20 years and wastewater infrastructure simply could not keep up with the inflow.

“We try our best to not have to do these kind of things,” said Carroll.

“The volume that was released, was 59.6 million litres.”

Carroll says the choice to divert sewer water into the river was made to spare homeowners from having their basements back up with raw sewage or having wastewater spill out onto city streets.

“I definitely empathize with the people who may live closer to the waterways and experience this more firsthand that other Winnipeggers,” he said.

Michelle Richard says she was frustrated to hear yet again millions of litres of raw sewage was being dumped into the river and says the repeated sewage diversions are impacting the quality of life for people who leave near the waterways.

“It’s a really upsetting situation of course,” said Richard, who volunteers with the Wolseley Residents Association.

A terrible odour is now in the air, says Richard, and there’s sewage debris floating along the riverbanks.

She adds it’s very concerning from the perspective of the environmental impact.

“This is a big issue, and it’s not an issue unique to the City of Winnipeg by any means, this is an issue facing cities across North America just because of the age of infrastructure,” she said.


Traces of sewage in the Winnipeg Red River. (Credit: CityNews/Mark Neufeld)

According to the Canadian government, municipal wastewater is one of the largest sources of pollution to surface water in the country.

Environment Canada data shows between 2013 to 2018 nearly 900 billion litres of raw sewage was dumped into the country’s waterways.

The City of Winnipeg estimates more than 5.5 billon litres of sewage was dumped locally into the river in 2020.

“We can stop flooding in basements, and we can stop putting untreated sewage into waterways, and I think that’s the first step,” said Marianne Cerilli, a former chair of the Wolseley Residents Association. “The city has to acknowledge there are other municipalities that have done a better job.”


Cerilli wants the city to work with community members like her organization to create alternative options for water capture and storage, including green rooftops, rain gardens and enhanced greenspaces. Some of these initiatives are already being used in provinces like Ottawa with great success, says Cerilli.

“When I look at what Ottawa did, they talk about being able to swim in the Ottawa river,” she noted. “No one talks about being able to swim in the Red or Assiniboine River anymore.”

Meanwhile Carroll says with more rain in the forecast, city crews are keeping a close eye on the weather to determine if more sewage will need to be offloaded once again into the river this weekend

“But it doesn’t look like it’s going to be the same level of a storm that just went through, so that’s good news.”

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