Sask. community restores neglected wetland

Restoration work over the next two years will restore this wetland at Riverhurst, Sask., and turn it into an educational site. | Penny Gustafson photo

Local residents will install a drainage system to re-establish a healthy water level, plant trees and build a walking trail

An unsightly slough at the entrance to Riverhurst, Sask., is getting a makeover thanks to local volunteers and a federal grant.

The Riverhurst Communities in Bloom committee wanted to improve the first impression people have of the village by restoring the wetland.

Penny Gustafson said the surface-fed wetland has been there for decades. The site was actually home to a curling rink in the 1920s through to the 1940s and every spring it flooded, she said.

The site was used as a pasture and a feedlot for years. A few years ago, the council did not renew the lease and Gustafson said the area became unmanageable.

“At our last meeting in 2018 we decided we were going to do something about it,” Gustafson said, referring to the Communities in Bloom committee.

The wetland covers about 3.5 acres, while the entire site the committee is working to improve is about nine acres. The goal is to re-establish a healthy water level.

Gustafson said she and others planted trees for the last two years, but their work needed to address the flooding risk the wetland presents. That’s something the village wanted to do for years, she said.

They obtained funding from the Environmental Damages Fund to install a drainage system to keep the former village slough at a sustainable water level suitable as habitat for wildlife and birds.

Fines on polluters contribute to that fund, and the money is dispersed to projects that restore habitat.

Over two years, the Riverhurst committee is expected to receive $146,000 for the work.

Several hundred more trees are going in this spring and next to establish a shelterbelt and forested area. The plan also includes a walking trail, bird nesting platforms and benches.

Mayor Lawny Gustafson said the community appreciates the funding.

“One of the main goals of the wetland project is to provide a consistent and controllable water management project that provides flood management and drainage while at the same time maintaining its traditional wetland function,” he said.

He also said the site will provide educational and stewardship opportunities.

Penny Gustafson said it wasn’t easy to convince all residents that the slough could be a beautiful spot that contributes to biodiversity and flood and drought mitigation.

“There was a lot of backlash from the villagers who said it wasn’t going to work,” she said.

Construction is expected to be underway this year. An engineer is developing a plan and Gustafson said she hopes a portion of the land will be deepened to maintain a consistent level of water at all times.

“I want to do my part,” Gustafson said when asked why she pursued the project. “I love trees and the ducks and geese that already live there and I don’t want to see them go.”

When cattle grazed there during drier periods, they would eat the weeds and keep the land somewhat tidy. Since that stopped, it has become an eyesore, she said.

“I want to see it looking nice.”

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