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Here's how one of Sask.'s largest power plants was knocked out for 73 days, and what it took to fix it

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A group of SaskPower workers recently received special recognition at the legislature – for their efforts in repairing one of Saskatchewan’s largest power plants after it was knocked offline for months following a serious flood last summer.

The area surrounding Coronach, Sask. was host to a violent downpour on the night of June 2, 2023.

According to Environment Canada records, the area received just under 65 millimetres of rain in the span of four hours.

The sudden rush of water caused a berm in the area to over-top, allowing water and debris to flow straight toward the nearby Poplar River Power Station.

The flood led to an estimated of 4,900 hours repair and cleanup work at the coal fired power plant – with the incident ultimately costing the province $4.9 million.

The worst off was the station’s pump house.

“It was overwhelming. When you would go into the pump house, the amount of straw and mud that had washed in, it was something,” Station Director Dalton Giblett told CTV News. “It was unbelievable.”

Once the water was pumped out, the equivalent of 40 round bales were cleaned up off the pump house’s main floor. The facility’s 47 foot deep well, which provides cooling water for the plant, was completely filled by debris.

The cause of the flooding was due to excessive rain, causing a nearby berm to over-top. The water rushed towards the station's pump house and the main facility itself, carrying a large amount of debris. (Courtesy: SaskPower)

With the only access point being a three foot by three foot hatch, Giblett said his team had to go back to basics in order to clean up the mess.

“We started to remove that, after we got the water pumped out, one barrel at a time,” he explained. “A total of roughly 128 round bales came out of that house.”

The summer time weather and cramped conditions posed issues for workers as they descended down the well with their buckets in hand.

“[It was] the beginning of June so it's hot, it's humid … the straw and mud started to give out gases, it started to like ferment. So this all had to be done under breathing air,” Giblett explained. “You had to wear a harness and tie it off in case of the rescue procedure.”

The aftermath of the June 2 storm that caused mud and straw debris to flood into the Poplar River Power Station near Coronach, Sask. (Courtesy: SaskPower)

However, the pump house was just the beginning of the challenges faced by crews.

According to Giblett, once the pump house had flooded – personnel were forced to pump some of the contaminated water into the plant to cool it and properly bring it offline.

This meant a massive overhaul on most of the plant’s systems in order to get the station back up and running.

“Cleaning things, heat exchangers, coolers these types of things to make sure that when we did fire the units back up again or get the pump house running again, that we weren't pumping more debris through the system,” Giblett explained.

At the time of the flood, only one of the station’s two generators were running. Following the required cleanup and overhaul, the two units returned to service in mid August – being offline for a total of 73 and 79 days respectively.

According to SaskPower, the flood was a first for the provincial Crown. An upgraded berm was constructed – with the hope of preventing a similar flood in the future.

“We produce 630 megawatts of power out of this power station, both units were offline at a time when our system load was quite high,” Giblett explained. “It's something SaskPower has never gone through as a company.”

Official thank you

The efforts of Poplar River’s staff to get the station back up and running earned an official recognition at the legislature on April 22.

Ministers and MLA’s from both sides of the assembly joined to express their thanks for the effort displayed by the workers involved.

“On behalf of the Government of Saskatchewan, I want to express the upmost appreciation to these individuals for the work they did last summer over a number of months and the work that they do each and every day on behalf of the people of this province,” Minister of Crowns Dustin Duncan said as he addressed the assembly.

“I can’t fathom the cleanup, the commitment and the dedication that you had to put in to get this station back up and running after the events of last summer,” NDP critic for SaskPower Aleana Young added.

The display was well received by Giblett and his team.

“When people started hearing the story, they started to appreciate the work that really happened down here and they wanted to show some recognition and it was greatly appreciated,” he said. “I wish we could have taken the whole plant – all of our employees – because they're the ones that deserve to be up there.”

He went on to say that nothing will beat the feeling on the day the plant restarted.

“I was watching our staff coming in out my window and they were looking up at the stack and they could see that we had some steam rolling around,” he recalled.

“There was smiles. It was a sign of victory for us. So that was heartwarming.”

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