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Water issues begin to unite communities
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."
El-Chantiry gets answers over belated boil-water advisory in Carp
Matthew Pearson, Ottawa Citizen August 19, 2014
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.
Meeting over water quality
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.
Doc delves into dire straits of flood evacuees
Brad Oswald, Winnipeg Free Press August 16, 2014
It isn't an easy story to watch; clearly, it has been a far, far more difficult one to live.
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.
Brandon needs real fix for floods
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.
Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.
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