Quill Lakes solution not an easy one to reach
Dwight Odelein has been watching the encroaching Quill Lakes flood waters pretty much all his life.
Since he began farming five miles north of the Quill Lakes 33 years ago (his operation actually is measurably closer to the lake now), Odelein has witnessed the three separate lakes merge into one body of water that, he says, is five times as big as the lakes were when he started farming as an 18-year-old.
What’s at stake are the very livelihoods of his neighbours. On his now-retired uncle’s operation, Quill Lakes waters have crept up to what would have been the front lawn. That means acres of onceusable farmland are now flooded and of little value. “This is his pension — his retirement,” Odelein said.
But why this is happening to the Quill Lakes remains a matter of debate ... albeit not as burning a debate as the one about how it should be resolved.
Odelein agrees extreme weather events — specifically, an October 2009 downpour that dropped eight inches of water just prior to a winter of heavy snowfall — are to blame.
“If you could erase that one year and one event from history, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation,” he said.
Odelein agrees statistically verifiable precipitation increases (that he says “have gone through the roof ”) are one big reason why Quill Lakes waters are rising, but he also says a Ducks Unlimited dam structure built in 1956 (the top of which he says is 522.3 feet above sea level) may be as big a contributor to a lake that’s now risen to 520.5 feet above sea level.
Prior to such man-made interventions, recently drilled core samples seem to suggest, water occasionally drained from the Quills in exceedingly wet years like the 1920s, said Odelein, who has studied the hydrology of the area extensively.
Michael Champion, head of industry and government relations for Saskatchewan Ducks Unlimited, said his organization is aware area farmers think the dam has “artificially inflated the topography of the area” but “that’s just not accurate.”
Odelein disagrees and argues alleviating the current pressure on the Quill Lakes could be achieved by a drainage ditch, similar to the natural solutions of the past.
“If you are not going to do any damage to Last Mountain Lake, why not let it flow?” Odelein asked.
However, this idea is a nonstarter for the Saskatchewan Alliance for Water Sustainability (SAWS), which argues high levels of saline in the Quill Lakes basin waters — 9,000 to to 11,000 milligrams per litre of total dissolved solids — would seriously threaten Last Mountain Lake and other lakes in the Qu’Appelle chain.
Moreover, SAWS argues the Quill Lakes flooding is caused by years of what is now illegal farmland drainage, something the organization says is also the biggest contributor to blue-green algae in the Qu’Appelle Lakes chain.
“The provincial government has pitted farmers against those downstream,” said Aura Lee MacPherson, who is active in SAWS and this fight.
MacPherson said Premier Scott Moe and the Ministry of Environment need to show leadership by bringing together farmers, cottage owners, environmentalists and even those in the potash and oil industries (which could use the Quill Lakes’ saline water for industrial purposes) for a roundtable discussion aimed at finding solutions.
Unfortunately, getting Saskatchewan people together for a discussion seems an impossibility when opinions are as hardened as they are on Quill Lakes water.
For example, Odelein argues, SAWS is massively exaggerating the threat of saline from the Quills doing any harm to the Qu’Appelle lakes.
He also believes SAWS has an unreasonable and exaggerated position on the long-standing controversy of farmland drainage, which he argues isn’t even the biggest contributor to Quill Lakes flooding.
“I ask (SAWS members) ‘What do you want?’ They say, ‘Stop illegal drainage,’ ” Odelein said. “Well, so do I.”
The problem, however, is that you can’t get Saskatchewan people to agree on much when it comes to water.