Quill Lakes so­lu­tion not an easy one to reach

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - OPINION - MUR­RAY MANDRYK Mandryk is the po­lit­i­cal colum­nist for the Regina Leader-Post. mmandryk@post­media.com

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.

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