On the heels of the formal announcement of the formation of the Quill Lakes Flood Impact Group, the Rural Municipality (RM) of Lakeside, based in Quill Lake, was forced last week to close the main grid between Quill Lake and Wynyard.
Grid 640 has been on the watch list all spring as rising waters erode the major artery connecting the north and south between Little Quill and Big Quill lakes. The bridge on Grid 640 has become somewhat symbolic of the huge impact the flood has had on the area, as water levels are easily tracked to the level of the bridge.
According to the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency, the lakes are at a record high of 520.64 metres, a measurement taken from Little Quill near Wynyard as of May 6. This is up nearly .4 metres (about 16 inches) since last fall.
Late the afternoon of May 4 when the News visited the area, the lake was still; however, there was heavy truck and vehicle traffic on the grid and the water had already eroded the road to about a foot inside the guard rails on both sides of the bridge. With any wave action, more precipitation forecast, and remaining spring runoff plus underground inflow, damage to the bridge could potentially increase.
By 5 p.m. on May 5, the RM of Lakeside had closed the grid. Rising waters breaching the bridge’s surface and exceeding the rip rap protection was cited as reason for the closure.
After spending several days doing interviews with other media, Kerry Holderness with the RM of Lakeside says the mood in the area is very depressed.
“For someone whose land has been valued at $500,000 and the government is only offering $100,00 for people to move, there’s a huge gap somewhere,” said Holderness in an interview on Friday.
“People are watching their land going under water more every day and they don’t know what to do,” he added, reflecting on the helplessness being felt in the entire region.
The other concern is the safety of commuters who have chosen to go around the barricade on 640.
“The road is so soft on the bridge. I put a stick through it and it sank about a metre — it was just like cake. The bridge could go at any time,” he said. “Some commuters are still pushing it; they’ve already moved the barricades once. There’s no insurance if they fall through.”
As Grid 640 is the only road between the area’s lakes, travel between Quill Lake and Wynyard is redirected to either Hwy. 6 to the west or Hwy. 35 to the east, extending the travel time between the communities from 20 minutes to nearly an hour.
Saskatoon Health Region says Shamrock and Midway ambulance services from Wadena and Wynyard have been working together to ensure the rural area north of the lakes continues to receive ambulance service.
“The community the ambulance responds from will be changing, but the level of emergency care services provided to the area will remain unchanged,” stated the health region on May 8. “The ambulance services will strive not to extend their response times to the area as well.”
Ambulances from Wynyard will no longer be able to respond to emergencies north of the closed bridge, so the area will be served by ambulances dispatched from Wadena or Watson. Ambulances will transport individuals to the most appropriate hospital, in either Wadena or Humboldt.
“There is potential for a full metre rise before water starts to outflow and lake levels stabilize,” stated the RM. “Without a reversal in weather trends or a solution for a controlled outlet to stabilize the water levels, economic losses of infrastructure, business, agriculture and the long-term revenue base for the region will continue to deteriorate, valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
“The magnitude of construction on this road has been and is beyond the capability of the RM of Lakeside.”
Affected municipalities have been gathering steam in order to garner government support and resources and to combine their efforts with those of landowners to help deal with the flooded Quill Lakes areas.
Last week, the formation of the Quill Lakes Flood Impact Group was officially announced. Its members consist of elected councillors from the following both rural and urban municipalities within the Quill Lakes watershed area, including (the RMs of) Foam Lake 276, Emerald 277, Mount Hope 279, Big Quill 308, Prairie Rose 309, Usborne 310, Lakeview 337, Lakeside 338, LeRoy 339, Ponass Lake 367, Spalding 368 and St. Peter 369, plus the towns/villages of Quill Lake, Dafoe, Wadena and Wynyard to date.
In that combined effort, the group is looking for both short- and long-term solutions, including compensation packages for those directly affected and funding to address rural infrastructure surrounded and destroyed by rising water. It will also investigate possibly sustainable levels for the Quill Lakes, with corresponding costs and funding possibilities.
In discussions so far, the group has created a potential two-stage method for compensating landowners. This will be presented to both the provincial and federal levels of government.
The first stage would be an acreage-based payment on “too wet acres,” possibly administered by Crop Insurance. The current Unseeded Acreage Program was discussed with its multiple levels of coverage available from $50 to $100 per acre. The program is available for a premium (whether or not the land is insured for yield loss) and a five per cent deductible, but only insures the land for one year. Beyond the year, any claims are deemed ineligible.
The group proposes to change the eligibility for acreage-based payment for a period of five years, and to establish a fair acreage-based payment that relates to pasture and hay lands.
In the proposed second stage, if the water has not receded and the land is not back in production after the five-year period, the Crown would purchase the flooded land from the landowner at fair market value. The producer would maintain first right to lease the land from the Crown if the water levels recede and the lands can be brought back into production.
The Quill Plains Flood Impact group will be hosting its next meeting on May 28 and plans to meet on the last Thursday of the month.
By Alison Squires