Most people in the region are aware of increased moisture and runoff conditions over recent years. Few have been spared the consequences of productivity loss in farmlands, traffic disruptions due to road washouts, and additional repairs. With water levels reaching new highs since European settlement, all Saskatchewan taxpayers will feel the costs of raising provincial and municipal infrastructure to levels no one ever thought necessary. Businesses are also affected, and costs will be passed onto the consumer.
The Quill Lakes watershed is large: 2.1-million acres of runoff area from Ituna to Naicam, and from Nokomis to Rose Valley is the approximate size. Everyone who has water running away from the doorstep toward the Quills is part of the region. As our flood reaches a spill-point we will become part of the Last Mountain Lake/Qu’Appelle/Assiniboine river chain. That creates a whole new aspect of decision-making; they are already organized to deal with their water issues.
Nature is nature. Some of what man has done to the landscape can be attributed to runoff capacities (the actual percentage of difference has been hotly debated), but most improvements were made with the best of intentions and approved by socially accepted standards. All people have benefitted and except for maybe two or three decades out of 500 years, the decisions were sound. Managing water is something we have been doing for centuries. It is controlled for flood prevention, drought-proofing, recreation, and of course safe and secure drinking water supplies.
A number of rural municipalities began seeking solutions to the flooding issues facing farmland and infrastructure around the Quill Lakes. With problems of this magnitude, it was quickly discovered that the solution would not be simple, and it has not been nearly as swift as those experiencing the ongoing losses would like.
Grid 640 that runs between Wynard and Quill Lake. From the bridge (centre), water could not be seen 10 years ago. Now east and west you cannot see land.
What is apparent is that the provincial government wants the region to deal with the issues through a regional organization, following provincial rules. Watershed associations have been formed in other parts of the province through the Watershed Associations Act, to deal with many different issues. Although this legislation has been in place since the 1940s, there was no local demand for one of these entities here, until now.
A Quill Lakes watershed association could develop a fair solution through a democratic process of making decisions that best meet the needs of all the people of the region. It could make sure the needs of some don’t supersede the needs of others.
There have been calls from the public for help with issues ranging from controlling water levels through a release of some water from the lakes and diversions of fresh water from entering the lakes, to closing drainage ditches and storing upstream water upstream, throughout the region, until lake waters recede. Some feel that if a few people are required to store water on private lands for the ongoing financial benefit of others, compensation may be a fair trade-off. There will be costs involved if we do something, but if we do nothing, people are also affected.
We will not know if a watershed organization can meet everyone’s needs all of the time, but it will ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, decisions will be made as close to a local level as possible, and we will begin to deal with the problems we are facing today. We will be in a better place to deal with other issues we will certainly encounter in the future. There have been scientific suggestions that we are only 10 years into a 30-year wet cycle. If this is true, there are a lot more problems to come.
In initial discussions between a majority of rural municipalities of the watershed area, it was decided that for an effective authority to be formed, all rural and urban municipalities, First Nations and existing conservation and development authorities should be invited to the table. All of the region’s opinions may then be brought forward and every entity would be able to join the new watershed association and participate in forming its structure.
The next meeting on the issue will be in late January. All residents, please let your local representatives know your thoughts.
Submitted by Kerry Holderness
Kerry Holderness is deputy reeve for the RM of Lakeside and interim chair of the Quill Lakes watershed association formation committee.
Photos by Jason Friesen