Initiative formed to discuss Assiniboine water concerns

Manitoba, Saskatchewan and North Dakota water agencies, conservation groups and political organizations support forum to solve flooding problems

Municipalities and organizations in eastern Saskatchewan support an initiative to work with North Dakota and Manitoba on water concerns, says the manager of Assiniboine Watershed Stewardship Association.

Still, it will take time and effort to get individuals and groups from south-central Saskatchewan on board.

“There’s stronger support, right now, on the east side of Saskatchewan. Maybe because of past relationship with Manitoba, we understand where our water system ends up,” said Aron Hershmiller, from his office in Yorkton.

Hershmiller is a member of the interim executive committee for the Assiniboine River Basin Initiative (ARBI), a fledging organization to foster co-operation between Manitoba, Saskatchewan and North Dakota on flooding and water management issues in the Assiniboine, Souris and Qu’Appelle watersheds.

The Prairie Improvement Network, formerly known as the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council, has been promoting ARBI for about a year. The concept gained momentum this summer following flooding across eastern Saskatchewan and western Manitoba.

Hershmiller said it will require effort and time to educate landowners in the upper Qu’Appelle River and convince them to join the ARBI.

“(We need) to attract more of the basin individuals from the Saskatchewan side, particularly moving west down the Qu’Appelle system, moving over to that Regina-Moose Jaw area.”

Hershmiller said five watershed associations in Saskatchewan al-ready co-operate on joint water concerns. The ARBI project simply broadens the scope beyond the province, he said.

“We are concerned with source water, where our water is going, how we’re using our water. Now, all we’re doing is working with North Dakota and Manitoba on the larger Assini-boine River Basin…. Down the road, we can do larger, long-term projects… in this overall basin.”

The organization should also provide a forum for water, agricultural and conservation groups from North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Manitoba to talk to each other, which could mitigate accusations and hostility, Hershmiller said.

“There’s some finger pointing with water coming from Saskatchewan,” he noted.

“(But) every highway and every roadway is basically a mini-berm, holding water back. Some municipalities in Saskatchewan control their water, hold it back till the peak has subsided and then start releasing water.”

The ARBI interim executive committee held a meeting in Minot, N.D., in early August, to brainstorm funding models and governance structures for the organization.

Wanda McFadyen, ARBI project manager, said the ARBI planning committee has representatives from all three jurisdictions, including conservation groups and water agencies.

The Manitoba government committed $50,000 to the ARBI in early August.

McFadyen hopes the governments of Saskatchewan and North Dakota match Manitoba’s contribution, prior to an ARBI conference in Regina this fall.

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