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Cleaning Up Petpeswick Inlet

By Richard Bell 

Why was Government Wharf Beach on West Petpeswick Road in Musquodoboit Harbour closed for the 2nd highest number of days of beach closures in HRM this summer? 

Disputes over the sources of Petpeswick Inlet’s increasingly common fecal stew have been going on for decades. And over all those years, no one has ever bothered to do the simple water testing that would quickly reveal the culprits.  

On October 5, 2017, the Harbour East-Marine Drive Community Council finally voted to approve a small expenditure, $1,400, for first step that might eventually lead to the identification of the sources of pollution, followed by a cleanup. The Council approved a request from the Musquodoboit Harbour & Area Chamber of Commerce and Civic Affairs to spend $1,400 from the surplus that has accumulated from Musquodoboit Harbour’s local area recreational tax. (See “Vote in Nov For Recreation Fund,” for background on the upcoming vote on keeping this local area rate.)  

According to John Woods, the chair of the Chamber’s infrastructure committee, the money will go to hire a consulting firm, EXP Services Inc. EXP will review the records which Halifax Water keeps for the operation of the small sewer plant that handles the combined sewage from Eastern Shore District High, the Birches nursing home, and Twin Oaks Memorial Hospital.  

“Halifax Water samples the effluent quality from this plant once a week, year round,” Woods explained, “and sends these evaluations to the provincial Department of Environment. The province built and ran the plant, until they eventually turned over operations to Halifax Water.”  

Woods said that EXP would be doing three things. First, they will be researching and reporting on the provincial and federal guidelines for sewer treatment. Second, they will evaluate the existing data and say whether it conforms to the provincial and federal guidelines. And third, EXP will provide its opinion on whether the effluent is the likely cause of the water quality problems in the inlet.  

EXP will not be doing any actual water testing. Water testing would be the next logical step, and would require substantially more funding. “We need to do some dye testing,” Woods said. “Are there are any leaks in the pipes between the three sets of buildings and the treatment plant?  And we should test residential systems next to the Little River, especially those closest to the harbour.” He estimated that such testing would cost at least $8000.  

Once water testing has clearly revealed the sources, the next step would be to develop and fund a strategy for eliminating the sources of contamination. “The federal government has control over the oceans and the inlet,” Woods said. “Elsewhere in the province, we know that the federal government has contributed money to upgrade sewage systems, even septic systems at the residential level. And there are new treatment systems in operation that are far cheaper to build than traditional ones.”  

Woods also noted that if the results of water testing show that the current ESDH/Twin Oaks/Birches plant needs to be completely replaced, it might be worth re-considering long-standing proposals to supply sewer and water to the village core, all in one package that included the existing three institutions.  

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11 E Petpeswick Rd, Musquodoboit Harbour, NS B0J 2L0

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