Time is running out for the Quill Lakes region with waters continuing to rise, and it is in the process of becoming one of the worst economic natural disasters due in the history of Canada, according to the Quill Lake Watershed Association (QLWA).
In the last 12 years, the lakes have risen over six metres , approximately 20 feet, and there is no sign of this current wet period coming to an end with the wet spell predicted to last another 13 years till 2030.
This spring, lake levels still rose by approximately 27 cms (10.6 inches) leaving only 0.75 metres to the start of natural overflow. With an unusual wet fall run off this year there will be a significant effect on lake levels come spring next year.
To date the losses are considerable, with livestock and recreation land losing 58,000 acres, crop production 33,000 acres, and when it comes to infrastructure, the price tag runs into the millions.
The QLWA states five core problems, (1) An escalating disaster that is devastating the economic viability of the region. (2) The livestock sector has been entirely wiped out in the flooded areas. (3) Most crown recreation areas and wildlife lands have disappeared. (4) Private agricultural lands at lake levels are suffering, with intensified losses as water levels rise incrementally. (5) Both public and private infrastructure continues to be swallowed up with expensive actions needed imminently on provincial highways, railways, private yards and dwellings.
This foreboding natural disaster is a new phenomenon with no recorded history available to provide a prediction of what the largest runoff year will be, or what is the largest series of rain events in a season. There is only the geological science suggesting that the lakes have overflowed twice since the last ice age, prior to any man-made influences.
According to the QLWA, an area double the size of existing flooded private lands have become worthless due to uncertainty of how high the flooding will continue. The only value remaining is the annual productivity, but only until they flood.
The continuing escalation of this problem will see an area of 3.1million acres, stretching from Ituna to Naicam and from Nokomis to Rose Valley suffering economic losses.
To remedy the problem or at least slow it down, the QLWA have been presented with several possible solutions. Engineering studies suggest further solutions that would at least begin to alleviate the flooding situation.
“A managed solution to a stabilization of this lake system is not just achievable, but affordable, if consideration is taken for the enormous economic losses that will accrue if it’s ignored,” states Kerry Holderness of the QLWA.
The first action taken on this issue by the Water Security Agency is the new Agricultural Water Management Strategy. This too will have economic ramifications to those affected. Although a responsible and orderly drainage program will hopefully help prevent flash flooding issues that cost millions to repair, many farmers are expressing fears of what excessive upstream storage could do to their productivity.
With the crisis of Quill Lake unfolding, nature appears to have the upper hand at least for now. Trying to seek a technical fix at this possible late hour may result in a loss of control of the local environment. The whole Quill Lakes problem could be a lesson about the importance of preemptive action in our current climate of climate change. It could be too late to forestall or reverse an impending environmental disaster around this region, states the QLWA.
The Quill Lakes Watershed Association was formed as a recommendation of the Saskatchewan environment minister in order to have a legal entity to proactively manage land and water resources within the Quill Lakes Basin. So far about one-third of the potential membership of R.M.’s and urban communities within the region have joined.
By Andy Labdon