The community of South Brook received the best news it could hope for on Christmas Eve in light of a recent breach of the dam at the former Gullbridge mine site - an advisory warning residents not to use the municipal water supply had been lifted.
"In all seriousness, it was the best Christmas present we could have hoped for," said Mayor Paul Mills, speaking with The Telegram Wednesday. "The citizens of South Brook were co-operative and understanding with it all, and generally we made the best out of a not-so-nice situation right at Christmastime."
The provincial Department of Environment and Conservation made the initial order for non-consumption of the local water supply last Monday, the same day the department discovered a 50-metre-wide break in the tailings dam at the old mine site.
The dam is located approximately 25 kilometres upstream from the town.
No contamination found
On Monday, the province an-nounced that lab results from samples taken from the town's water supply after the breach occurred indicated the water had not been contaminated.
Samples from three successive days (Dec. 17-19) were taken from the intake area of the water supply.
Results indicated samples tested below the maximum residue limits (MRL) for most analytes detected, including heavy metals such as copper and zinc.
Weekly testing planned by province
Samples were also tested from the confluence of South Brook and Gulf Pond Brook and from the area near the dam. Results from those tests - also based on three days worth of samples - were nearly identical to those relating to the water supply intake area.
Two samples from the confluence area did show levels of copper above the MRL of 0.001 milligrams per litre. 0.006 mg/L was detected on Dec. 18, while 0.004 mg/L of copper was found in the Dec. 19 sample.
The Dec. 18 sample taken near the damn showed levels above the MRL for zinc (0.01 mg/L) and copper, but those levels fell below the applicable MRLs in the Dec. 19 sample.
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According to Mills, the province will continue testing samples on a weekly basis "for the foreseeable future," adding that testing will likely increase in the spring as water flow builds up.
News of the end of the non-consumption advisory reached the community midday Monday. Mills was among those who volunteered to unload bottles of True North Springs water from a truck to the town office on Dec. 17. A water distribution centre operated from then on until Monday.
Mills said the town of 500 was using approximately 25,000 litres per week - almost two full tractor-trailer loads were consumed. True North Springs' bottling facility happens to be located a short distance from South Brook.
"As far as dealing with it, there's not much else that could have been better as far as the timing and being able to get the product right away."
According to Mills, the provincial government has already indicated it will provide emergency funding to cover the cost of the water used during the ban, as well as expenses incurred by the municipality to pay staff overtime.
Work was already underway to reinforce the dam when the breach occurred, according to the province.
According to Minister of Environment and Conservation Tom Hedderson, who spoke with reporters last Tuesday, construction workers were in the process of removing material around the dam when it "sprung a leak."
The 50-metre gap emerged a short while later. He said it may take days or weeks for material dumped into the stream to make its way to the town.
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