The province is investigating a sewage leak reported to the City of Winnipeg that sent around five million litres of untreated waste into the Red River over the course of nine days.

Craig Tulloch has a home on Glenwood Crescent that backs onto the river.

He said, on Saturday morning, he went to the backyard and noticed open water near the outflow pipe on the river, something he thought to be very unusual as it was very cold that morning.

He said he went down to the riverbank and even drove across bridge and to the park to get a closer look. Tulloch said that’s when he saw what looked like dirty water that had a film on it and a noticeable odour.

He said the smell continued into Monday night, when he noticed an odour in his home. Tulloch said he cleaned out all the garbages just in case the smell could be coming from them.

By Tuesday morning the odour was still there, and according to Tulloch, it was much stronger and much worse. He said before he went to work, he took a trip down to the riverbank and noticed an extremely strong smell.

That was when Tulloch called 311, more than once, to confirm the city was sending someone out to investigate.

The city confirmed it received an inquiry about a “strong sewage smell” near St. John’s Park on Tues., Jan. 19, at 10:23 a.m.

Instruments on site indicated the blockage may have been in place as of noon on Jan. 10.

A city crew found lumber partially blocking the opening of the diversion chamber, located upstream from the combined sewer outfall at 1 Fowler St.

Crews removed the lumber at 1:35 p.m. and restored full flow.

Typically, the diversion chamber directs dry weather flow to the treatment facility and allows rain to overflow into the river. In this case, the blockage sent untreated flow into the river.

The city said the incident did not trigger an overflow alarm as those are not set up to detect blockages in the openings of chambers, only within.

The city has reported the incident to the Manitoba Conservation Accident Reporting line.

The city is in now the hot seat after it failed to notice the leak first.

An inspection on January 12, two days after the sewage began spilling into the river, showed no problems.

Alarms meant to notify high water flows didn't go off.

“We are working on a program to reduce these occurrences and prevent these things from happening going forward,” said the city’s Manager of Wastewater Services, Chris Caroll.

The city said it would cost a billion dollars to revamp Winnipeg’s aging sewer system.

In the meantime, officials are retrofitting the system with monitors and sensors.

The city says the amount of sewage leaked into the red river is much less than what would be expelled during a heavy rainfall.

Province stepping in to investigate

Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship said Thursday it was investigating the incident. It said the city contacted the province in a timely matter.

Any possible enforcement toward the city, fines or penalties, will be determined when the investigation is complete.

In 2011, the city saw between 50 and 60 million litres of raw sewage spill into the Red River; an incident caused by a glitch in the water pollution centre.

The city paid $10,000 in court fees for that spill, far less than the provincial maximum fine of $1.5 million.

The city said the 5.5 million litres of raw sewage leaked into the Red River is much less than what would be expelled during a heavy rainfall.

On Thursday night, the city put “thin ice” signs warning residents of the dangers on the water.