Sask. group shelves diversion project that would have drained water into Manitoba waterways
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This article was published 26/01/2018 (1950 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A controversial diversion project set to drain water from Saskatchewan into Manitoba waterways already prone to flooding has been shelved.
The Quill Lakes Watershed Association decided this week to withdraw its proposal because the group was running out of time to begin construction in the spring.
The plan was to drain water from the Quill Lakes Watershed, 200 kilometres north of Regina, into the Qu’Appelle water system. It would have eventually flowed into Manitoba, courtesy of the Assiniboine River.
In a statement, the watershed association stated that it would still pursue a “managed solution to protect or minimize future damages due to flooding.” The closed basin does not have a drainage point.
The Saskatchewan Alliance for Water Sustainability is not satisfied by the group’s decision, however.
“They could very well continue with the same proposal once the requirements are received, or they could start another proposal that could be just as bad,” vice-chair Sherry Forsyth said. “We aren’t terribly optimistic.”
SAWS, which formed over the “continued deterioration” of water quality in the Qu’Appelle River Watershed, recently launched an e-petition to get an environmental assessment completed, asking Manitobans to sign. The organization describes the water being diverted as saline quality, but the Quill Lakes Watershed Association considers it to be fresh water.
The alliance levelled blame at the Saskatchewan government, which deemed such a review unnecessary. A permanent ditch would have been dug from the watershed to Assiniboine River.
SAWS was not satisfied many environmental impacts, including fish, wildlife, plants and the use of water by agricultural producers, communities and First Nations people, were being considered.
“The Quill Lakes have a flooding problem, but the answer is not to move that problem downstream with unknown costs to people and the environment,” Forsyth said in a statement.
The Monday announcement from the Quill Lakes Watershed Association follows a CBC story that same day showing “a very cosy, collaborative relationship,” according to a university professor, between the association and the government department deciding to forgo an environmental assessment.
Cancelling the proposal is unlikely to be a definitive setback, Forsyth said in an interview.
“We are not going to stop. We are going to continue with the strategy to make sure that any plan to reduce lake levels is one that doesn’t damage our lakes and rivers, doesn’t damage our economy such as our fishing industry and our tourism industry and one that benefits … the producers in Quill Lake as well.”
Ducks Unlimited’s director of regional operations for the Prairies, Scott Stephens, said omitting the environmental assessment “seemed contrary to how we understand the requirements for a big project like this.”
As it stands, the Quill Lakes watershed is an important bird habitat to Ducks Unlimited, and the proposed ditch would run through two of the organization’s wetland restoration projects.
He compared the divisive drainage project to the ongoing debate in southwestern Manitoba over addressing the swelling of Whitewater Lake.
Nobody downstream, be it Whitewater or the Quill, wants more water to flow through their rivers, lakes, and potentially over their banks, Stephens said.
With Quill Lakes, he referred to a pledge of the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency to stop illegal damage into the lakes to reduce inflows. Those drains have not been closed, SAWS has said.
“That seems like one of the most logical solutions from our perspective,” Stephens said.
Ian Boxall, a board member with the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, said the closed water basin has flooded some 60,000 acres of pasture and farmland, costing local producers $50 million annually in lost production.
A fix is needed, the Tisdale, Sask., native said.
“I think it is responsible water management, and I know saying that, coming from Saskatchewan to Manitoba, the perception’s different here.”
In Winnipeg this week for the Keystone Agricultural Producers’ annual meeting, Boxall said Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler was correct when he said the provinces are alike when it comes to dealing with drainage in basins.
“He made a good point. You guys are also in a basin, and the water runs to a basin; that’s just the facts of it. Between our government and your government, we need to do something to alleviate those problems.”
In a statement from Manitoba’s government, a spokesperson wrote that the province considered a formal assessment essential in the Quill Lakes drainage project, “even though the potential impact of the project to our province was not expected to be significant.”
Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires will meet with Saskatchewan officials next month to discuss issues related to drainage and water quality, the statement read.
» Twitter: @ianfroese
Updated on Monday, January 29, 2018 2:23 PM CST: Adds statement that the Quill Lakes Watershed Association does not agree with the characterization, forwarded by the Saskatchewan Alliance for Water Sustainability, of the diverted water from the Quill Lakes Watershed being saline.