Rising water has affected farmers and landowners around the Quill Lakes.
Farmer Trent Murray, who co-owns land near Little Quill Lake, estimates that as of last fall he had 250 acres under water and more threatened. Last summer about 40 acres of seeded land were lost as the water rose, and an arm of the lake is cutting across one quarter, isolating a section of the field.
One of the quarters has a sand ridge marking an old shoreline, and Murray reports that the water’s edge is well past that. Sand ridges can also be found near Wadena, across sections 20 and 29 west of town, and north of Lawrence Haskey’s, west of the Richardson terminal.
One oldtimer has related that in 1914 the shore of Little Quill was somewhere in the region of Hwy. 35’s current route south of Milligan Creek. There may have been an outlet near Elfros prior to the building of the CP line, but its location has been lost.
Roy McMartin is losing more than farmland. His farmyard itself is threatened by Little Quill.
“It is currently about 300 yards away, and the east-west grid is flooded. The only route I have left, on the south, to haul grain has a bridge limited to two tonnes so I can’t move very much grain at a time.” He has lost at least one quarter of land and 400 acres of seeded crop to the lake. The granaries are under water on his leased land, and nitrates are invading his well.
A common complaint among landowners is that there has been no support or help from governments, either local or national. Taxes still have to be paid on the unusable land, and incomes have dropped. Lawrence Haskey has lost about 50 acres of pasture. South of Paswegin, Malcolm Evans too has lost pasture land. Paswegin Creek runs through his land on its way to Little Quill Lake. It used to dry up but now he estimates that it is two-and-a-half to three feet deep because the lake is backing up through the creek bottom.
He has lost a quarter of land and the lake is a half-mile closer to the yard than it was. The creek dividing the yard from pasture has risen high enough that he can only get across it with the tractor now, not a truck or quad. The lake has risen up around 35 acres of land seeded last year and isolated it so that it cannot be harvested. Ten acres of hay land is under water. Evans expects to lose more land this spring, as well as losing fencing when the ice comes off. He will also lose some grain land, from having to convert it to pasture for livestock. One local farmer who preferred to remain anonymous commented that he had lost all his hay land, both owned and leased, and was probably going to lose his cropland this year as well.
Pasture and crop land have been lost to the lake, and some farmyards may be next.
Much of the hay land that livestock producers rely upon has been near the lakes and creeks, and ranges from muddy to swampy, if not actually drowned. By 2012, the slow rise of the Quill Lakes had overrun the hay and pasture land that producers were using near the lakes; land that previously had been thought to be well out of the lake. From a near-minimum in 2004 (514.0m for Big Quill, 517.4m for Little Quill), there were unprecedented large rises in the water level of Big Quill in 2006 (from 514.2 to 515.2), 2007 (to 516.4) and then of course the big one in 2011 (from 517.4 to 519.3). [Water level information from Water Survey of Canada stations located on Big Quill Lake and Little Quill Lake.]
According to RM of Lakeside councillor Kerry Holderness, 28,674 acres of farmland (crop, hay or pasture) were submerged in the last rise from 519m to 520.3m. This does not include land lost prior to 2011.
The 640 grid, running from Quill Lake to Wynyard between the lakes, has been hit hard by the water every year since 2011, and a considerable amount of work has been done to keep it open. While the road is currently open, conditions still could force its closure.
There is another issue with the rising water. Alkali is coming out in the areas that are still dry around the Quill Lakes. Foxtail, which thrives in saline soil, cannot be used for feed and crowds out grass and other hay crops, is spreading throughout pastures and cropland. Once it seeds, the barbed seeds are difficult to remove and can injure the mouths and skin of animals.
More than agricultural or habitat lands are in danger, though. The Town of Wynyard sewage lagoon, located next to Big Quill, is already surrounded by water and the road leading to it is flooded. Town employees can still reach the lagoon but they have to drive overland to get there. According to town foreman Jason Chorneyko, the lagoon is still able to gravity-drain but they are looking at pumping it soon. There is a similar issue with Wadena’s sewage lagoon. Located southwest of town, Little Quill Lake is now within a couple hundred metres of the edge of the lagoon’s dyke and has flooded much of the drainage channel. Although the lagoon itself is unlikely to be overrun, drainage may become an issue.
Many recall the lakes when they were almost dry, but it is only through stories handed down that we remember that they were once high and fresh enough to support fish. Bathing was once popular at Big Quill as well. Perhaps it will be again.
By Charlene Wirtz