Residents affected by Quill lakes flooding didn’t quite send the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency back to the drawing board, but they gave officials some new drawings to work with in the quest to address the problem.
And it was wise of provincial officials to listen.
Saskatchewan environment minister Herb Cox said a plan to divert water away from the Quills into Last Mountain Lake will not go ahead.
Flooding from the Quill lakes, especially in the last few years, has created a crisis. It’s estimated that 85,000 acres of private and crown land are under water. Major roads, including highways 16 and 6, Grid Road 640 and the Canadian Pacific Railway line are facing a looming onslaught of water.
The Quill lakes, which sit roughly halfway between Saskatoon and Yorkton, are considered near-terminal, which means runoff from hundreds of square kilometres flows into the lakes but doesn’t flow downstream, at least not in a natural water flow. It may find its own way over farmland, roads and a rail line.
As well, the water is highly saline, so attempts to steer it downstream worry residents in the Last Mountain Lake area.
There is evidence that the serious flooding that has already taken place is just a sign of things to come.
Since 2004, water levels in the Quill lakes have risen by almost seven metres. Another metre and the lakes will begin releasing water into the Assiniboine River Basin, which channels water into Manitoba through Brandon, Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg. It’s estimated that at that point, upgrades and property losses to farmland and infrastructure could hit $85 million.
A report from Golder Associates re-leased in January recommended berming around Kutawagan Lake and then building a system that would steer the water to Last Mountain Lake. It would not drain water from Quill lakes.
However, residents in the Quills area want more land protected, and residents downstream objected. Five hundred people showed up at a public meeting, and 74 percent of those consulted opposed the plan.
The Water Security Agency will look for another solution.
A salient comment came from Rural Municipality of Lakeside councillor Kerry Holderness, who observed that “people downstream don’t want our water but I think they’re starting to realize that they might get it anyway.”
That will force a needed compromise, though we don’t yet know what it will look like.
To that end, the Water Security Agency said the exercise has been fruitful because residents offered useful suggestions for the agency to consider.
Forcing a plan on residents was not the way to go. In such situations, the people most affected must have their views considered.
But as much as residents will have to compromise, it must be done quickly, or the list of possible solutions will be short.