Canadian Teachers are Waiting to Educate Over 82,000 Canadian Students About Drinking Water Quality Issues and Solutions

Canadian teachers are currently waiting for the opportunity to educate over 82,000 Canadian students about drinking water quality issues and solutions. In order to be able to do this they will need over 3,400 sponsored Operation Water Drop, Operation Water Pollution and Operation Water Biology kits to be sent to their schools. Individuals and companies can sponsor kits for schools. If you/your company sponsors kits, you/your company will be acknowledged in the letter that accompanies the kit. You can even decide in which geographic area your kits will be dispersed or to which specific school(s). Please e-mail if you would like to sponsor Operation Water Drop, Operation Water Pollution and/or Operation Water Biology kits or if you would like more information.

Educational Kits for Schools

Many school divisions and districts from coast to coast are recommending the Safe Drinking Water Foundation's education programs to their teachers!  Thank you to all of the administrators who are promoting our programs!  To find out whether a sponsored kit is available for your school,  send an e-mail to or phone 306-934-0389.


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Natascia Lypny, The Leader-Post August 22, 2014

They've lived in the same watershed, struggled with the same water quality issues, and been similarly frustrated by the government's response. On Wednesday night, they finally came together to contemplate: What's next? Cottagers, farmers, municipal leaders and First Nation members who live along the Lower Qu'Appelle watershed might not have found their answer at one meeting, but they did find common ground.

"We left the meeting, and we just said, 'We're going to stop pointing fingers. We're all going to see how each of us can take it up a notch,'" said Auralee MacPherson, chair of the Friends of Katepwa Provincial Park organization.

As a cottager, MacPherson said she'd noticed water quality issues on occasion, but hadn't paid much attention.

"It takes two or three of these 'Oh my goshes' before you start thinking, 'I should really come out of my little gopher hole and do something about this.'" The catalyst for MacPherson, as with many cottagers, was an E. coli warning issued as a result of June's floods.

She said drawing participants to the event, which she moderated, was easy, given the topic. "The water is connecting us," she said.

Fort San Mayor Jim Harding agreed it was about time everyone who has a stake in the water's health came together.

"The real deep thing that was happening at this meeting is people were trying to overcome their sense of isolation and powerlessness," Harding said.

Harding has been spearheading an independent research initiative to unearth exactly how temporary sewage treatment bypasses executed by the City of Regina during and after the floods affected water quality downstream. He's calling for the city to require its new waste water treatment plant to remove all nutrients from the water, and implement better emergency measures for extreme weather to avoid having to use sewage bypasses.

"I would say the majority of people on these lakes don't use them the way they used to," he said.

The lakes are so sick that many members of First Nations simply can't use them the way they used to. Edmund Bellegarde, chair of the File Hills Qu'Appelle Tribal Council, said the water quality has violated treaty rights, as First Nation members can no longer use the contaminated water for sustenance.

He added that the government's responses to the watershed communities' concerns thus far has not convinced him the province is making a concerted effort to address water quality issues.

Figuring out how the water gets used, and protected, is complex given the multiple contributors to its contamination and how many forces are competing for its use, said Todd Peigan. The chief of Pasqua First Nation, which sits by an algaeinfested lake that shares its name, highlighted how pressures on the watershed are set to increase with the province's plans for more industry and agricultural projects in the area.

As a next step, Peigan is calling on the provincial government to sit down with Pasqua First Nation to discuss the implementation of the Pasqua Lake Water Management Agreement. The document, signed as part of a flood claim settlement in 2013, prescribes a new entity that will address the cleaning up of the lake.

Harding, too, said action has to come from the top.

"You can't expect mayors and chiefs and cottagers to be able to pull this off," he said.

But he's not optimistic about government help any time soon.

"I don't think without a change of the federal government we're going to get anywhere, and I don't even think the provincial government's got a commitment to water quality. I think they hedge that, but their fundamental commitment is to increasing the supply of water for industry."

That said, Harding thinks the co-operation shown at Wednesday's meeting was a good first step.

"There's a process of compassion here as well as politics."

Matthew Pearson, Ottawa Citizen August 19, 2014

The City of Ottawa is reviewing how it issues boil water advisories.

The city says it needs to do a better — and faster — job of notifying the public about boil-water advisories after it took three hours to issue such a notice in Carp recently.

On June 23, at approximately 10 a.m., a resident contacted West Carleton-March Coun. Eli El-Chantiry via Twitter to inquire about a sudden drop in water pressure. The councillor alerted city staff and was told a private contractor damaged a water main from the communal well that provides service to about 180 homes.

El-Chantiry was advised at approximately 12:20 p.m. that the water was back on, but four hours later Ottawa Public Health issued a precautionary boil-water advisory to residents in the affected area.

El-Chantiry said the incident revealed a communication gap between different city departments and, at the June 25 council meeting, filed a list of questions he wanted staff to answer.

A timeline in a staff report prepared for the environment committee says the city’s drinking water services department started flushing the system to mitigate potential impacts on water quality just before 1 p.m.

Minutes later, at 1:15 p.m., following discussion between the manager of drinking water services and public health officials, it was agreed that a precautionary advisory was necessary.

Public health staff began door-to-door canvassing in Carp at 3:30 p.m., even though some residents had been using the water all afternoon, while the precautionary boil water advisory wasn’t sent out for another hour.

The lag time, according to staff, was caused by public health needing to mobilize resources for the door-to-door campaign. In addition, the drinking water services department needed time to figure out which streets and homes were affected.

“This type of analysis is time consuming and, depending on the complexity of the system in a given area, can take several hours,” the report says.

But the report goes on to say residents should have been informed sooner.

“Staff recognizes that residents would have reasonably expected to be made aware of any potential boil water advisory much sooner. Residents and the ward councillor have expressed their concern that people were using the water, unaware that there was any potential issue.”

The city is now reviewing the protocol for issuing such advisories.

Public health will also now proactively issue a precautionary boil-water advisory whenever there is a significant depressurization incident in one of the city’s communal well systems, such as Carp, so that this may be communicated to the public before water service is restored.

The city doesn’t automatically issue advisories for every water main break because there are approximately 250 to 300 each year, and issuing advisories for every break could hurt public confidence in water system, the report says.

It also notes that the actual risk to the public during the June 23 incident was considered to be low.


Natascia Lypny, The Leader-Post August 19, 2014

The Lower Qu'Appelle Watershed is one of the most stressed water systems in Saskatchewan. On Wednesday, the Friends of Katepwa Provincial Park and File Hills Qu'Appelle Tribal Council will be hosting a meeting to discuss the system's condition.

One of the event's speakers, Peter Leavitt, is a University of Regina researcher in his 21st field season of studying the watershed. He gave the Leader-Post the river rundown.

How bad is it?

The system's lakes are blighted by a common prairie plague: Blue-green algae. The algae, said Leavitt, has a trifecta of causes: Heat, light and nutrients. Leavitt said the Qu'Appelle lakes are naturally productive, as evidenced by hundreds of years of sediment cores he's studied.

So, the lake 'pollution' is natural?

Yes and no. "Several of the lakes are worse than they've been historically," Leavitt said, especially those located downstream of urban centres like Regina and Moose Jaw. Leavitt has found that water downstream of Regina is five to six times more toxic than it used to be.

Agriculture has also contributed to algae growth. Saskatchewan's grasslands used to have 10 to 15 per cent water cover; now the province has lost half of its natural wetlands.

Not only do wetlands act as a "bio filter," said Leavitt, absorbing nutrients and preventing them from going downstream, but tilling and fertilizing also make the land more susceptible to nutrient leakage into the water system.

How has this algae changed the lakes?

Leavitt described "rather profound changes" that have already occurred to the Qu'Appelle lakes.

"They're not broken; they're just working really, really well."

That is, the lakes are hyper-productive when it comes to algae.

"You can actually break a lake. You can make it so productive that more or less everything is killed in it," said Leavitt.

When algae dies, it sinks to the bottom of a lake and consumes oxygen, eliminating fish habitat. The Qu'Appelle lakes aren't necessarily seeing fewer fish, but changes in fish composition, said Leavitt.

The river system is also being shaped by global warming and the pressures of water extraction for agriculture, industry and urban purposes, he added.

What needs to be done?

Last year, the provincial government committed $92,500 toward a Lower Qu'Appelle River Watershed Plan.

"In the immediate sense, I think we're obliged to remove nutrients and pollutants from the system and try to return them back to the state they were at," said Leavitt.

He thinks a reasonable target would be for the system to have drinkable water in 50 years.

Regina's new waste water treatment plant, scheduled for completion in 2016, will help to substantially reduce nitrogen levels, he said.

"That's not to say the lakes are going to look pretty thereafter. It's taken 100 years to mess them up. It's going to take decades for them to recover."

Leavitt also cautioned that "expectations have to be managed," that is, don't expect for Pasqua Lake to ever be as clear as a swimming pool. It never was.

Brad Oswald, Winnipeg Free Press August 16, 2014

Vicky O'Meara and her daughter Julia in their hotel room at Misty Lake Lodge.

Clint Beardy in his home on Lake St. Martin First Nation. (PHOTOS BY JEREMIE WOOKEY)

Delma Brass's condemned family home on Little Saskatchewan First Nation (PHOTOS BY JEREMIE WOOKEY)

It isn't an easy story to watch; clearly, it has been a far, far more difficult one to live.

The new locally produced documentary Treading Water: Plight of the Manitoba First Nation Flood Evacuees is the straightforward telling of an intensely frustrating tale. The film, which airs Saturday, Aug. 23, at 7 p.m. on CBC, showcases the raw emotions and beyond-exhausted patience of a group of displaced Manitobans who just want to go home.

Among the most telling moments in the film is the introduction, by many-times-relocated Lake St. Martin resident Vicky O'Meara, of her youngest child, Julia. When Treading Water's camera crew captured the moment, in April 2013, the little girl was two years-old; she was born just after the 2011 flood that forced residents to evacuate the Lake St. Martin, Little Saskatchewan, Dauphin River and Pinaymootang First Nation communities and, as such, she has never had a real home.

"We've lost a lot more than just houses," says two-year-old Julia's grandmother, Edee O'Meara. "Our family structures are being broken down; our community structure is broken down. You take somebody's home, you bring devastation to their lives. You take their roots. You take their grounding."

The story explored in the film begins in the spring of 2011, with the once-in-350-years flood that laid waste to much of rural southern Manitoba, but Treading Water takes a few minutes to provide -- using rudimentary but effectively drawn animation -- some simple background facts about the water-management strategies that set the stage for what occurred.

Created in the late 1960s to protect larger centres in the southern half of the province, the Portage Diversion regulates water levels on the Assiniboine River by redirecting some of its flow into Lake Manitoba.

The Fairford Dam, built in 1961, is used to regulate Lake Manitoba's level by allowing excess water to flow into Lake St. Martin.

In 2011, with flood waters along the Assiniboine at historic highs, the Portage Diversion was expanded by 56 per cent and the Fairford Dam was opened wide, with the end result being a sudden rise of nearly a metre in the level of Lake St. Martin.

Numerous First Nations communities were ordered to clear out, and most residents obeyed, thinking they'd be out of their homes for a few weeks at most. Years later, as documented by brother/sister Franco-Métis filmmakers Jérémie and Janelle Wookey, a couple of thousand still had no idea when -- or even if -- they would be able to return to their communities.

"It wasn't everything," says a tearful Vicky O'Meara, "but it was a home. We were all together."

The film, which was co-produced by Wookey Films and Winnipeg-based Nºman Films, takes a largely chronological look at the plight of the evacuees, following its subjects from place to place as residential arrangements change as various levels of government -- federal, provincial and First Nations -- posture, promise and attempt to score political points while accomplishing basically nothing that materially improves the lot of the Lake St. Martin evacuees.

"It's bullshit, all," says hunting and trapping guide Clint Beardy, one of the residents who refused to leave his community. "It's a mess; it's all political. There's a lot that could be done that isn't being done."

A significant segment of the film is devoted to the rancorous relationship between Misty Lake Lodge, the Gimli-area hotel that housed many evacuees for an extended period, and the Manitoba Association of Native Fire Fighters (MANFF), which was tasked with overseeing evacuee assistance and eventually faced accusations that money it received had not been spent on assisting displaced residents as contracted.

"I'm so disgusted with them," Evee O'Meara seethes in the film. "Really, they've set us back about 50 years as First Nations people who are trying to become empowered, trying to clean up our communities."

Former provincial Liberal leader Jon Gerrard figures prominently in Treading Water, offering several passages of rather succinct analysis of the way evacuee-related issues have been handled (or, perhaps, mishandled).

Treading Water follows the evacuees' story until as recently as last April, when 2,000 were still living in hotels and other temporary housing. Last month, a tentative deal was struck for construction of a new townsite that could allow Lake St. Martin residents to return home. A community-wide vote on the agreement is expected this fall.

For all the political discussion and finger-pointing that Treading Water includes, it's ultimately a film about people who'd just like, someday soon, to sleep in their own beds.

"These people have every right to feel mistreated," says local journalist Wab Kinew, "because they have been. They didn't build the Fairford Dam; they didn't build the Portage Diversion. And yet it's cost them years of their lives, and their homes. That's messed up."

Twitter: @BradOswald

Deveryn Ross, Winnipeg Free Press August 16, 2014

As the Assiniboine River waters slowly retreat from the second major flood in three years, the damage is everywhere to be seen.

The areas around Brandon's Riverbank Discovery Centre, a jewel of Western Manitoba tourism, resemble ruins from a war zone. Concrete components of public gathering places in Eleanor Kidd Park, which has been closed since the 2011 flood, are strewn like childrens' toys. In every direction, there are dead trees, shrubs and flower beds. A coating of silt covers everything.

Along First Street, which was not defended against the 2014 floodwaters, massive slabs of asphalt were stripped from the roadway, a testament to the immense power of the waters that rushed through the city.

Much of the city-owned golf course has been underwater for weeks, and will likely remain out of service for the rest of the season.

The price tag to clean up the damage caused by this summer's flood to Brandon alone will be in the tens of millions of dollars. That's on top of the millions more spent after the 2011 flood.

The latest flooding has put the future of the Discovery Centre in jeopardy. "We need to re-evaluate what our focus is... what we are actually able to rebuild and what needs to just be remediated," said Lois MacDonald, manager of the centre told the Brandon Sun earlier this week.

"It requires... a sober second thought as to how we move forward overall," she added.

MacDonald is correct that a thoughtful post-flood assessment is required, but not just regarding the future of the facility she manages. It is time for Manitobans to examine the evolving (and perhaps worsening) threat posed by the Assiniboine, the adequacy of existing and proposed flood protection and measures that should be undertaken to minimize such costly damage when future floods occur.

As to the threat posed by the Assiniboine, the fact the river has experienced two one-in-300-year floods, and that one of them was not the result of springtime snowmelt, speaks for itself. Whether it is the result of climate change, enhanced drainage along the upper Assiniboine watershed or a combination of those and other factors, it appears clear things have permanently changed, and past models regarding the frequency and severity of flooding on the river can no longer be relied upon.

Regarding the adequacy of flood protection, Brandon does not enjoy anything approaching the permanent one-in-700-year protection enjoyed by Winnipeg. It does not even have one-in-300 permanent protection, largely because successive local and provincial governments have broken promises to provide that protection, apparently because of the misunderstanding that one-in-300 floods only happen every 300 years. In fact, the formula, assuming it is correct, means there is a one-in-300 chance every year.

Adding to the problem is the false assumption the Shellmouth Reservoir is capable of protecting downstream communities from any and all flood threats. The contradictory mission of the reservoir -- it must provide flood protection, assure a stable supply of drinking water and serve as a recreation and tourism facility -- makes it incapable of protecting western Manitoba in all instances. This summer's flood proved that, too.

Those are two factors that contribute to the problem, but the greatest contributor gets little attention.

Inadequate provincial land-use laws have allowed municipalities all along the Assiniboine to approve residential, commercial and industrial construction on the flood plain, and perilously close to the river.
Over the past three decades many millions of dollars in residential, commercial, industrial and recreational construction has occurred along the Assiniboine in Brandon alone. The story is the same all along the river, particularly downstream of the Portage diversion.

It is because of the proximity of those homes, businesses and recreation facilities to the Assiniboine that we have spent more than a billion dollars in emergency flood-fighting over the past three years, and are in the process of destroying Lake Manitoba.

It's too late to stop the development that has occurred, but not too late to stop the problem from worsening.
If the Selinger government wants to slow the drain on its finances due to flooding, a good first step would be legislation banning construction on flood plains.

The absence of such a law allowed this problem to arise. Let's fix the problem before it gets even larger.

Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.
Twitter: @deverynross