There is a lot of confusion flowing downstream about a proposal to deal with ongoing flooding in the Quill Lakes by diverting water into the Qu’Appelle Lakes system.
Water levels around the saline lakes have risen by 22-feet in just over a decade, flooding thousands of acres of farmland.
In 2016, farmers in the area formed the Quill Lakes Watershed Association, under direction from the province, to review options to deal with the high water levels.
This fall, the association submitted an application to the Water Security Agency (WSA) proposing a project to divert water inflows before they flow into the Quill Lakes down to Last Mountain Lake and through the Qu’Appelle Valley chain of lakes. The Saskatchewan Ministry of the Environment determined that this project would not require a full environmental assessment.
The potential impact on the environment is a big concern for people like Auralee MacPherson, who owns a cabin at Katepwa Lake and is involved with a Qu’Appelle Lakes community group calling for a sustainable solution to the issue.
“They are going to push the water into our basin and it’s very saline water, and so before we build that, we have to really think long and hard ‘is that the footprint we want to have our children live with,’” MacPherson said.
She admits there have been a lot of mixed messages coming from all sides leading to rumours about what exactly is happening.
MacPherson is concerned the approval process will move too quickly and take away the opportunity for input from the people downstream who will be affected by the diversion of water. She wants to see the process slow down to allow for proper research and consultation. But also said she is sick of the issue appearing to pit people upstream against those living downstream and would prefer to see all groups coming together to find a solution.
“It’s going to be hard and messy, but let’s have the good conversation so that we can ensure success for our farmers and a healthy environment at the same time,” MacPherson said.
Quill Lakes project still needs to meet approval conditions: WSA
Patrick Boyle with the Water Security Agency was happy to clarify some of the confusing details around the Quill Lakes proposal, calling it “one of the most complicated water management issues in the country today and maybe North America for that matter.”
Boyle first explained that this proposed project would not drain saline water directly from the Quill Lakes, it would take the excess water inflows and divert them around the Quill Lakes into Last Mountain Lake.
Boyle said the WSA is still reviewing the application by the Quill Lakes Watershed Association, and the project has to meet many conditions before it would be approved to move forward. Before anything happens, the WSA needs to approve construction and operation of the project along with a permit to protect aquatic habitat. Before giving approval, the WSA would also look at the hydrological analysis and hydraulic models to determine the impact of water flows both upstream and downstream of the proposed diversion project.
“It’s not draining the Quill Lakes, it’s diverting water that would normally flow into the Quill Lakes – and not all water that flows into there is saline or has a high level of total dissolved solids, or TDS, is how you measure salinity,” Boyle said. “But that analysis has to come in the application so we don’t have that information yet.”
Other conditions for approval include a water quality monitoring program and land control management to ensure there is a right to move water over private property.
“The last factor would be consultation – that includes with the public and First Nations in the area where there could be potential impacts,” Boyle said.
“Currently those things, to get those approvals – their application hasn’t met all those requirements, and we still need more information from the Watershed Association before we could even make a decision.”
Boyle said the project also has to meet 12 environmental conditions to approve construction, so there is oversight on the project. He could not offer any timeline on the approval process.