The Quill Lakes are getting close to overﬂowing which could potentially send salt water downstream into Last Mountain Lake.
Jason Friesen’s farm has been in the family for more than 100 years, but in the last 10 years he has been watching the rising water levels wash away the land.
“The lake level has been coming up every single year, over the last 10 or 11 years it’s an average of about 2 feet per year,” he said. “Our lake shore has spread out by ﬁve and six miles in places so it’s ﬂooded every bit of agricultural land around it.”
He says 27,000 acres of crop land is under water already plus about 53,000 acres of Crown land that’s used for pastures and hay.
Quill Lakes reached record water levels back in 2013. If the water continues to rise, there is a serious risk that salt water would overﬂow and spill into Last Mountain Lake. The saline water would have serious consequences for ﬁsh and bird populations there.
The Water Security Agency is currently proposing a plan to divert the water from Kutawagen Creek into Last Mountain Lake before it reaches Big Quill Lake. Dale Hjertas with the WSA says that water will be fresher than the salt water that would come from the overﬂow out of the Quill Lakes.
“Most of the water will come from the snow melt run-oﬀ and so on in the spring and that will be fresh. There is salt water, it is a naturally salty area. It will ﬂow down a creek called Saline Creek, so the name suggests that there will be some salt there,” Hjertas said.
According to water quality studies done by the WSA, the water from the creek would be at the higher end of the normal scale of dissolved solids already ﬂowing into Last Mountain Lake. Hjertas says the salinity would be comparable to normal levels in Last Mountain Lake, so it shouldn’t hurt the ﬁsh.
“The ﬁsh in Last Mountain Lake would not be impacted because they have already experienced that kind of salinity,” he said.
Hjertas says a full federal environmental review on the project would take at least a year so one option is to ask for an emergency exemption from both levels of government. He says the WSA would continue to do its own environmental reviews.
“You build ﬁrst and mitigate afterwards,” he said. “We’re doing as much as environmental review as we can now and bringing that to our environmental regulators.”
Friesen is part of a public group of farmers and residents who are advocating for a diﬀerent solution to the ﬂooding issue. He says the plan to divert the Kutawagen Creek isn’t good enough.
“For me and my neighbours in this area it’s outrage, because it’s not doing virtually anything to aid,” Friesen says.
He points out that farmers only get one year of ﬂood insurance coverage, after that they can’t get paid for their land at all.
“I think the solution is ﬁrst and foremost, compensation for everything that’s been lost already of some kind,” he said.
“We’ve got people who lost 70 or 80 per cent of their retirement fund really when their land went under water.”
Friesen says diverting the Kutawagan Creek will only reduce the water ﬂow by ﬁve per cent and that means people in the area will continue to deal with more ﬂooding. He would like to see a bigger controlled release out of the lakes.
“Controlling the water ﬂow, controlling the water quality so we’re not causing problems downstream, but basically making room for the spring run-oﬀ,” Friesen said.
Hjertas said it is true that the Kutawagan Creek will only take away ﬁve to seven per cent of the ﬂow into the Quill Lakes, but the idea is to reduce the ﬂooding over time.
“It will reduce the amount of ﬂooding over the Quill Lakes but it won’t guarantee that there won’t be any more increase in water levels around the Quill Lakes, that depends on how much it rains,” Hjertas said.
The WSA is holding open house meetings with people near Quill Lakes and Last Mountain Lakes this month to discuss the proposed plan. In addition to diverting water from the creek, the WSA would also build a berm around one side of the Quill Lake to prevent it from breaching the banks and wrecking the highway and the railroad.