January 4, 2019
P.O., Box 506, Fort Qu’Appelle, SK, S0G 1S0
J. Glen Gardner, QC,
Deputy Minister of Justice,
Province of Saskatchewan,
1000 -1874 Scarth St., Regina, SK,
Canada S4P 4B3
Dear Mr. Gardner:
Re: Call for a Review of MNP Audit Mishandling Conflict of Interest in Fort Qu’Appelle Land Sales to Abaco.
On Oct. 2, 2017, a petition calling for a financial audit, in accordance with S 140.1 (1)(a)(i)(ii)(iii) of the Municipalities Act, with the signatures of 743 ratepayers, was delivered to the Town of Fort Qu’Appelle. The ratepayers were particularly concerned about Town land deals with the North Dakota company Abaco between 2013-15, and the fact that Councillor Brian Janz was an undisclosed Abaco director over most of this period.
Abaco got three parcels of Town land, totaling 17 acres, for $2.00. Parcel Q was thrown in with V for $1.00. Parcel Y was later sold to Abaco for $1.00. As part of the deal Abaco only had to carry the costs of demolition and disposal of the old Indian Hospital on Parcel V. These costs have remained undisclosed, even after the audit.
We will outline in more detail in the attached document that some vital information about these sales was either withheld or has apparently been “lost”. These documents reveal much about what happened over this land sale controversy.
Cal Tulik, the owner of Apex, which did this demolition and disposal work for Abaco, refused to do an interview during the audit and MNP therefore failed to get factual demolition and disposal costs when attempting to determine fair market value. A side-deal struck between the Town and Apex, which was working for Abaco, would certainly have lowered these costs. An earlier appraisal by Crown Appraisal valued Parcel V, alone, at $99,000, including the highest demolition and disposal quote of $374,000. A previous party, Pellaway Bay Resorts, had been asked to pay $302,000 just for Parcel V, while also having to carry all demolition and disposal costs.
Until Abaco was in the picture, the Town had informed prospective buyers that Parcel Q, which the Town threw in with V to Abaco for $1.00, was not for sale, as it was needed for drainage and other access purposes. After the Town’s land sales to Abaco, Abaco owns all the previously public access roads that lead to the marsh area, on Parcel V and Q, off of which condos have been built, on land previously rezoned as a residential subdivision by the Town. Abaco also now owns Parcel Y, the land with the Trans-Canada Trail on it, also into the marshland. Reliable sources have recently informed us that Abaco has turned down an offer of $750,000 for the land that it received from the Town for $2.00 plus the undisclosed demolition and disposal costs, taking the side-deal with Apex into account.
Our organization, the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA), initially become involved in this matter because it was rumoured that Abaco planned to build a big-boat marina in the vulnerable marshland and floodway along the shore of Echo Lake. When we asked the Town about this, starting in 2016, we were consistently told there was no information about any such plan. And nothing was revealed to us about the details of these land deals. As the Fort Times did more investigative reporting and we collected more accurate information, we realized that there were other vital matters, besides the complete lack of transparency, including public access, fair market value and conflict of interest.
We were pleased when on Nov. 20, 2017 the WSA withdrew its initial agreement to sell shoreline Crown land to Abaco for $100,000 and we trust that this puts an end to this ill-conceived, inappropriately located marina project.
In December of 2017 the Town hired MNP to do the audit and on March 25, 2018, MNP issued its report. Since then we have had access to Freedom-of-Information (FOI) files on behind-the-scenes communications between the Town and MNP during this audit. These are quite revealing about the collaboration between the Town and MNP, which, as we demonstrate in the attached document, clearly compromised the independence and thoroughness of the audit. Previously we had access to FOI files from: AgCan, regarding the transfer of PFRA Crown land to the Province; the WSA’s handling of its negotiations with Abaco; and the Town’s files on its land deals with Abaco, which we will discuss, as relevant, below.
On April 25, 2018, the day before the public meeting on the audit, Mike McCormack of MNP emailed the Fort Qu’Appelle CAO Larry Davidson thanking him for forwarding our QVEA press release outlining in detail the serious factual errors of omission in MNP’s audit report. McCormack said, “It is what we expected from the QVEA and stand by our findings in the report. Unfortunately, we don’t please everyone when we look at fact based information and as we discussed the best resolution will be from the Province as to whether they wish to act on any of our information.” In this regard, about the Province getting involved, we agree with MNP, which is why we are forwarding this information to your Ministry.
MNP did not stand by its findings for long. The very next day, at the April 26, 2018 public meeting, when pressed by the local Fort Times Newspaper reporter, MNP’s lead investigator admitted that “maybe” there was a conflict of interest. Their report had concluded there was none.
MNP’s findings should not be about “pleasing” anyone, but about objectively assembling all relevant information and drawing valid conclusions from this. As we will show, the MNP report did not do this. The QVEA, however, is fully committed to what MNP calls “fact based information”. And the factual information that MNP collected, which we discuss in detail in the attached document, clearly shows that conflict of interest requirements were consistently being breached. Based on the factual information assembled by MNP it can rightfully be concluded that:
1) Mr. Janz did not disclose his pecuniary interest in the Abaco business prior to Town negotiations with Abaco beginning;
2) Mr. Janz did not disclose his business interest in Abaco prior to the Town selling land to Abaco, and;
3) Mr. Janz was in Town discussions that had a bearing on Abaco’s interests even after he had disclosed his pecuniary interest in Abaco.
MNP information also shows that Mr. Janz’s claims to the contrary were based on contradictory, fabricated and irrelevant excuses. We discuss this in detail in the attached document.
The Town’s own CAO clearly felt that there was enough information for MNP to refer its March 25, 2018 report to the Ministry of Justice. In response to a March 26, 2018, MNP email saying “…we have not found definitive breach of any conflict of interest rules therefore the report submitted to you as our client…”, the Town’s CAO quickly replied, “Sorry, but the act is explicit. Section 140.1” He then quotes “(12) If the auditor’s report identifies instances mentioned in clause (1)(a), the auditor shall forward the report to the Deputy Minister of Justice.” The CAO was correct about this, yet we found no specific reply to this email from MNP.
All the breaches of conflict of interest requirements under the Municipalities Act should have been brought to your attention. We are now doing this in the public interest. Under its own Engagement Agreement with the Town, the MNP was obliged to even bring forward potential conflicts of interest. It failed to do this. But there is more. Not only did the MNP audit not base its conclusions regarding conflict of interest on its own factual findings, or its obligations, but it failed to honestly report about all the related information about these Town land sales to Abaco that was found to be missing. The Town initially sold Abaco Parcels V and Q on Sept. 30, 2013. On Dec. 21, 2013 the Town changed the name of the purchaser from the generic name “Abaco Group”, to Abaco Energy Services, the Canadian-based company within this Group. The MNP report failed to acknowledge or discuss the Town lawyer’s Dec. 3, 2013 letter confirming that Mr. Janz had a pecuniary interest in Abaco and the implications of Mr. Janz not disclosing this prior to negotiations or prior to the September 30, 2013 land sale to the interwoven Abaco business. At the Dec. 21, 2013 council meeting, prior to finally disclosing his pecuniary interest in Abaco and leaving the room, Mr. Janz was present in the council session that went in camera to discuss the CAO “Darrell Webster and Abaco”. In that session Mr. Janz moved a motion to “rescind Motion 258/13”, from an earlier meeting, which was carried.
The minutes from the Town’s previous, Dec. 12, 2013 meeting and 26 motions, from 238/13 to 263/13 inclusive, are all missing from the Town’s website. We finally obtained a copy of Motion 258/13 and the Dec. 12, 2013 council minutes from the Town. These show that the motion, moved by Mr. Janz on Dec. 12, 2013, was to terminate CAO Darrell Webster’s employment as of Dec. 13, 2013. Kelly Schill, who then oversaw the land sales with Abaco, and was implicated in a breach of due process on April 2, 2014, became Acting CAO. Most important, the minutes show that the council never followed up on the lawyer’s Dec. 3, 2013 letter; there was no in camera or other discussion of Janz’s pecuniary interest or the implications of him not disclosing this prior to negotiations, or to the first land sale deal with Abaco. Instead the focus was not on Janz and his conflict of interest but on the CAO, who Janz moved be terminated.
At the Dec. 21, 2013 meeting the council, again, failed to discuss either the lawyer’s Dec. 3, 2013 or Dec. 18, 2013 letter. All the council did, in four minutes in camera, was change the name on the land sale from Abaco Group to Abaco Energy Services, which is part of the former. In a Feb. 16, 2018 email from the present Town CAO Larry Davidson to MNP, the CAO indicated his concern about the Dec. 21, 2013 meeting, writing, “I found these committee minutes…I would like to draw your attention to the Dec. 21, 2013 Special Council meeting. It appears that Councilor Janz was part of an in camera discussion and then declared a conflict of interest prior to a motion.” We found no response from MNP to this email.
The majority of council and Darrell Webster, CAO at the time, were clearly unaware of Mr. Janz’s pecuniary interest until the Dec. 3, 2013 letter from the lawyer. The council, however, never addressed the issue directly. Perhaps it did not want a public scandal that might have put the proposed marina-hotel project in jeopardy. In retrospect, it certainly looks like the council tried to bury the conflict of interest issue, by simply making the name change on the land deal, in hope that the controversy would not become public knowledge. It now makes sense why Town officials, including past CAO Kelly Schill, consistently claimed there was no information on these matters and withheld pertinent information from the public, which we have now more fully assembled through Freedom of Information files.
The termination of CAO Darrell Webster during this period clearly acted as a diversion from the conflict of interest issue. Both Brian Janz and his colleague Jeff Brown, who moved all the motions to sell land to Abaco, played key roles in this dismissal. A public meeting, held during the same period when the Council was privately grappling with what to do about Janz’s conflict of interest, drew hundreds from the community. Webster’s wrongdoing had to do with him using his Town credit card for some small personal purchases, which he reimbursed. He won his court case against the Town for wrongful dismissal. The stakes were puny compared to those involved in these land deals with Abaco, but the public’s attention was on the CAO and not on Brian Janz’s role as an Abaco director.
Town officials almost succeeded in burying the conflict of interest issue; it has taken from 2016 to the present for the facts and events to be accurately reconstructed. However, as we show in the attached document, MNP did not even attempt to do comprehensive fact finding, and the conflict of interest issue was almost buried again by their unprofessional audit report.
But there are even more reasons for an independent review, for there are no Town council minutes for the August 28, 2015 sale of Parcel Y to Abaco for $1.00. In his Oct. 24, 2017 letter to us, the present Mayor Whiting confirmed that these minutes were missing. In response to our earlier Access for Information request, he stated “We are unable to locate any record referred to in this request.” Also these Town minutes on the land sale of Parcel Y to Abaco were never found for the MNP audit, which is very serious, indeed. Why, in its audit report, did MNP fail to mention that there was no record of the council decision to sell this Town land to Abaco?
Furthermore, MNP admits that it was “unable to obtain” the “September 9, 2013 proposal letter from Abaco Group to purchase lots V and Q” (p. 4), which means that basic information was missing about both land deals between the Town and Abaco. Yet MNP failed to highlight this.
Furthermore, information pertinent to the conflict of interest matter regarding Mr. Janz was withheld from us by the Town. We made an Access for Information Request on Aug. 31, 2017. Regarding the conflict of interest of Mr. Janz, the Town withheld from us the Dec. 3, 2013 and Dec. 18, 2013 letter from the Town lawyer and Mr. Janz’s own letter of Dec. 17, 2013. Regarding Mr. Janz’s attendance at meetings that had any bearing to these land sales, the Town withheld information about the April 2, 2014 special meeting where the side-deal between the Town and Apex was discussed, with Janz present. It is also noteworthy that nowhere does MNP “fact finding” refer to, or consider, the Town lawyer’s Dec. 3, 2013 letter which was written because Mr. Janz had not disclosed his pecuniary interest prior to negotiations with, or to the land sale to Abaco. Why is this vital information missing from MNP’s “fact finding”?
Immediately after the April 2, 2014 special meeting CAO Kelly Schill, in a letter also dated April 2, 2014, informed Cal Tulik of Apex, which was working for Abaco, that “At a special meeting held April 2, 2014, the majority of the Fort Qu’Appelle Town Council approved for you to commence hauling rubble from the old Indian Hospital site to Parcel F.” This was done even though the April 2, 2014 special meeting did not have a motion moved, seconded or carried to this effect. This was not done until April 10, 2014. In the FOI files from after the release of the MNP report, there is an April 9, 2018 email from the Town CAO to MNP’s Mike McCormack, saying, “I realize this information is too little too late, but I thought I would share it with you. I found this in another file folder. The file system leaves a lot to be desired. It appears the special meeting did indeed happen…The minutes do not reflect a motion…no mover or seconder or approval… Below the Town CAO says “Subject to a written release by Apex Enterprizes and your approval, I will share this information with QVEA.” It is very disconcerting that Apex, the company with which the Town made this side-deal, to the benefit of both Apex and Abaco, was given a veto over the release of information from a special council meeting. So too was MNP given such a veto. And, for the record, we never received this information from the Town, nor did we receive the minutes from the hidden April 2, 2014 meeting. We never received this information after our Aug. 31, 2017 Access to Information request, nor after the Town CAO located more information confirming that the Town, including Abaco director Janz, had discussed and “approved” this side-deal without following due process or conflict of interest regulations. We finally located these April 2, 2014 Minutes as Appendix Q on p. 233 of the MNP report.
It was the responsibility of MNP to fully document information pertaining to these Town land deals with Abaco and to draw valid conclusions regarding any breaches or potential breaches of conflict of interest requirements. It was also their responsibility to document any missing files pertaining to these land deals, and any information that indicated that there was any breakdown in the due process required for democratic and accountable decision-making in local government. This was not done.
According to its Engagement Agreement MNP was to investigate “potential conflicts of interest on the Town Council”. With Abaco director Brian Janz on the council, and not declaring his pecuniary interest in the interwoven Abaco business before negotiations began, or before the first land sale, and then participating in council discussions that pertained to his pecuniary interest, after he had declared this, Abaco achieved the following:
1) Abaco got Parcel V for $1.00, while carrying demolition and disposal costs, when prior to that another company was asked $302,000 for V, while also having to carry these costs;
2) Abaco got Parcel Q thrown in for the $1.00, while prior to that the Town consistently stated to prospective buyers that Q was not for sale, as it was needed for Town drainage, access, etc.
3) Abaco got the benefits of the Town accepting the side-deal with Apex, financially rewarding Apex for some of the work it was doing for Abaco, which would likely lower Abaco’s costs; furthermore, Abaco got these benefits through an approval process in which Abaco director Janz participated and which breached due process;
4) Abaco also got Parcel Y for $1.00 to ensure it had access to the lakeshore for its proposed marina, in case the WSA did not sell shoreline Crown land (Parcels W and Z) to Abaco because it was floodway and/or because of actions by Pasqua First Nation; furthermore, Abaco got this land through a council meeting for which minutes have never been found and/or released;
5) Abaco got ownership of all the previously public roadways (on Parcel V and Q) and the trail (on Parcel Y) into the marshland on the shore of Echo Lake;
6) Abaco also got complete ownership of the previously public access roads, on Parcel V to the rear of Blue Bill Bay Estates, and on Parcel Q, which the Town uses for drainage, Echo Lodge Long Term Care Home uses for its eastern rear supply entrance, and which Willow Court condos originally planned to use to access its 6-unit development; and Abaco got all this even though the Town had previously (2009) zoned this land with access off the public roads on Parcel V and Q (Block N, later subdivided into YY) as a residential subdivision;
7) Abaco now owns 17 acres of valuable lakeshore land which it got for $2.00, without having to disclose the actual costs of demolition and disposal, which would have been lowered by the Town’s side-deal with Apex. Furthermore, Apex refused to give MNP an interview or disclose the actual demolition and disposal costs, which would have factually resolved questions about whether Abaco got this land below fair market value. Reliable sources have recently told us that Abaco has already turned down an offer for $750,000 for this land.
It might be argued that all or some of these specific advantages and benefits obtained by Abaco may be coincidental with it having one of its directors on Town council, without disclosing his pecuniary interest as required under the Municipalities Act, and failing to comply with the requirements of the Act after finally disclosing his pecuniary interest. This coincidence is highly unlikely, and anyway it was the responsibility of MNP to investigate and document the potential, not only the actual, conflicts of interest, which they did not do.
All of these matters are fully documented in the attached material, which include appendices of directly relevant material. Since the MNP audit did not do its due diligence, nor did the 743 Fort Qu’Appelle ratepayers who called for, and helped pay for, this audit receive the due diligence that they deserved, we are asking you to do a complete review of this matter.
We have about 1,500 pages of FOI material that relates to these land deals between the Town and Abaco which we plan to continue to analyze and post our findings at QVEA.CA under The Marsh Papers. We are available for further discussions regarding this immediate matter of Mr. Janz’s conflict of interest and the documented non-compliance with both the Municipalities Act and bylaws of the municipality.
Just because the previous Town council failed to address past Councillor Janz’s conflict of interest, and the present council has tried to cover over what happened, is no excuse for MNP failing to vigorously and objectively investigate this matter. They clearly failed at their mandate. It is now up to your department to follow the facts and to right these wrongs. We urge you to take these matters very seriously and to uphold the greater public interest.
We are copying this letter and the attached document to other agencies and officials who will have an interest in our findings. As we are an NGO, we do not have the capacity to copy all the appendices for everyone, so others can hopefully access these through you. Any of the agencies or officials we have copied are of course free and welcome to contact us directly with any questions. We look forward to your reply.
Yours sincerely,Dr. D. James Harding
c.c. Warren Kaeding, Minister of Municipal Affairs; Dustin Duncan, Minister of Environment; Susan Ross, CEO, WSA; Ralph Leibel, Director, Community Planning; Ron Kruzeniski, Privacy Commissioner; Judy Ferguson, Provincial Auditor; Mary McFadyen, Ombudsman; Ryan Meili, Leader of the Opposition; CBC, Investigative Unit.
March 1, 2018
Ministers of Municipal Affairs and Environment:
Hon. Warren Kaeding,
Minister of Municipal Affairs
2405 Legislative Drive, Rm. 30, Leg. Bldg.
Regina, Sask. S4S 0B3
Hon Dustin Duncan,
Minister of the Environment
Province of Saskatchewan
Rm. 345, Leg. Bldg., 2405 Legislative Drive
Regina, SK. S4S 0B3
Our organization, the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association or QVEA, has several interrelated questions regarding municipal governance and environmental protection that we wish to raise with your departments. They are important issues involving land sales, land trades, market appraisal, zoning, duty to consult and municipal transparency, accountability and due process, all of which have had a bearing on how well we are or are not taking care of the valley environment and our vulnerable watershed. We will copy others, such as the WSA, Community Planning and Justice that will also be interested in these matters.
The Town of Fort Qu’Appelle had to relocate its lagoons out of the valley as one means to protect the flood plain and watershed. This was a good thing; however, the Town’s previous mayor Ron Osika saw this as a chance to develop the marsh and flood plain land where the lagoons existed into industrial lots.
In 2010 Fort Qu’Appelle contacted the SK Watershed Authority about this, and on Sept. 2, 2010 the mayor received a letter “Re: Development on the Former Sewage Lagoon Site”, which stated “...as long as the ground level within the former lagoon to be developed is above 480.65 m or filled to an elevation of 480.65, then SK Watershed Authority would not be opposed to development of this site.” The “site” is clearly where the “former lagoons” existed. And the letter stipulates, “that this review is limited to the susceptibility to flooding for the new development, and does not address any potential environmental issues with respect to development of the former site.” It then states, “Questions regarding environmental issues should be addressed by the Ministry of Environment.” On Aug. 31, 2017 the QVEA made an Access to Information Request to the Town, which included 33 specific requests for documents which have a bearing on protecting and restoring the marshes and flood plains within the watershed. This included several questions regarding “Lagoon Dumping”.
The Town provided its documents on Oct. 24, 2017. But there was nothing that indicates that the Town followed up on the Sept. 2, 2010 letter from the SK Watershed Authority, and contacted the Ministry of Environment. Also, there was nothing that indicates that the Town ever got permission from either the SK Watershed Authority or Environment to dump beyond the lagoon into the wider marsh and flood plain area which is considered Flood Fringe.
The only record that relates in any way to this is a July 20, 2010, letter from Blue Sky Management, to SK Environment, which refers to the “Town’s intention to dispose of the old Indian Hospital site concrete within either the abandoned lagoon or the old abandoned nuisance grounds.” Again, this is only about dumping in the old lagoons; it is not about dumping throughout the marsh and flood plain area beyond the lagoons that includes the Flood Fringe, part of which became zoned as Parcel F.
Yet, under a side-deal that the Town made with Apex Enterprizes, which we shall discuss below, this whole area (perhaps as much as 8 acres beyond the 4 acres where the lagoons were) has now been filled in. (It is our understanding that after disposing of demolition material from the old Indian Hospital, that rubble and fill has been brought in from other sources, perhaps even from dismantling a hill above the valley off Highway 35.) See III below. The QVEA previously raised a related matter with Environment. On June 24, 2016 Environment official Don Howe indicated that in July 2010, SK Environment “granted approval (to Fort Qu’Appelle) to dispose of concrete material in the old lagoon cells”. We have not seen any approval for this, other than the above letter referred to from SK Watershed Authority. Further, Howe himself stated that this only involved dumping disposal material “in the old lagoon cells”, not throughout the much larger marsh and flood plain area, where Apex has continually been dumping, since April 2014, apparently with Town approval.
Furthermore, the QVEA raised the matter of toxic asphalt being dumped in this area by the old lagoons, and on July 5th, 2016 Howe emailed the QVEA saying “that the Town has since been informed that asphalt cannot be disposed of at the identified location” citing the Construction and demolition Waste management and Disposal Guidelines of the Ministry. On Sept 19th he emailed the QVEA again saying the Town “foreman informed us that all the fresh/recently placed asphalt was hauled to the City of Regina landfill by CF Asphalt.” During this correspondence the QVEA continually stressed that dumping was going on far beyond where the lagoons had existed. Our ongoing visits to the old lagoon site, however, indicate that asphalt continues to be dumped there. We have also witnessed that some of it was spread and buried with other fill. As of Feb. 28, 2018, there were piles of broken asphalt in and among piles of fill dumped on Parcel F. We have photos. We have also previously witnessed cement rubble that was dumped well beyond the lagoon areas towards Highway 10.
Our questions, regarding dumping in the marsh and flood plain (Flood Fringe) area beyond the old lagoon, are therefore:
1) Is there any document that shows that the Town received environmental permission to allow Apex to dump rubble in the old lagoons?
2) Is there any document that shows that the Town received any approval, from either SK Watershed Authority or Environment, to allow Apex to dump in the marsh and flood plain (Flood Fringe) area beyond the old lagoons?
3) Why is the Town continuing to allow asphalt to be dumped in this area, even after the intervention by Environment in 2016? Will there be any consequence for the Town and those continuing to do this dumping?
4) Did the Town ever get approval from Community Planning to zone this marsh and flood plain area beyond the old lagoons, continually being used to dump demolition rubble and other material, as “industrial lots”?
5) Were any environmental and/or engineering studies done to determine whether filling in the marsh and flood plain area beyond the old lagoons would threaten downstream water quality during future flood events?
6) Finally, does any of the marsh and flood plain area beyond the old lagoons that Apex has been dumping in, with Town approval, that is zoned as Flood Fringe, qualify as an environmental reserve under provincial regulations?
We have seen WSA’s Nov. 20, 2017 letter to Abaco Energy Services of North Dakota which states that “the sale contract cannot be performed and WSA has accordingly decided to abandon its efforts to sell the land.” The land it refers to is the approximately 19 acres in Parcel W and 2 (Z) on the shoreline of Echo Lake in Fort Qu’Appelle that WSA conditionally agreed to sell to Abaco for $100,000 on May 11, 2015. Soon after Pasqua First Nation disputed this sale in the courts. After consulting with Community Planning, the WSA has now determined that “significant portions of both parcels Z and W were below” the 1:500 flood elevation, and “the portions below that elevation (are) to be dedicated as environmental reserve in accordance with the Planning and development Act 2007.”
In that letter the WSA says “An environmental reserve can either be held by the Crown or can be held by a Municipality. However, in either case, the environmental reserve portion of the land cannot be transferred to Abaco Energy Services Ltd.”
In this regard, the Town of Fort Qu’Appelle has sold Abaco both Block Q and Block Y, which include marsh and flood plain areas that, like parcels Z and W, are in the flood plain and below the 1:500 elevation. The zoning designation of Floodway is clearly shown on the Town’s own Zoning District Map (Bylaw No. 01-2015). In the note on this Zoning Map it says “Floodway and Flood Fringe represent the 1:500 flood elevation information derived from the GIS dataset.”
Q (3.2 acres) was sold to Abaco along with V (7.7 acres where the old Indian Hospital was) for $1.00 in Jan. 2014 and Y (6.7 acres) was sold to Abaco for $1.00 in Aug. 2015.
Since a large portion of Q and all of Y are in flood plain (Floodway) areas, and below the 1:500 elevation, we wonder whether the Town is obliged to make this portion of this land into an environmental reserve, as has been done by the province for Parcels Z and W?
There are also some questions about how this land was sold to Abaco. Block Q included a public roadway which provided access to the rear entrance of the provincially-run Echo Lodge Long Term Care Home, to the Town’s own drainage infrastructure, and to condo residents who live in Willow Court. Block V included a roadway that provided access to the rear of Blue Bill Bay Estates residents. This whole area, with these roadways as access, was rezoned Residential by the Town in 2009, several years before any of this land was sold to Abaco. The WSA would have created easements, if it had sold Parcels Z and W to Abaco. However, the Town sold Block Q and V as well as Y (which has the Trans-Canada Trail on it) to Abaco without providing any public access easements. Willow Court residents have been physically blockaded out of their property since Nov. 2016, first by cement blocks and now by a chain link fence constructed by Abaco. The Town has clearly failed to ensure public access and consequently a petition calling for this to be done was signed by over 600 residents. The Town has not yet acted on this petition.
Equally important, the Town has no record of its sale of Block Y to Abaco. The records received from the Town through QVEA’s Access to Information request, contain no Minutes showing that the Town sold Y to Abaco. The present mayor, Jerry Whiting, has twice said in letters to the QVEA, that no such Minutes can be found.
There are also many missing or non-existent files pertaining to the sale of V and Q to Abaco, which strongly suggests that the conditions of this sale were not met. Most certainly the demolition was not completed within the one-year period stipulated in the Agreement. The past Town CAO, Gail Sloan, is quoted in public (Fort Times paper and at council meetings) that many files regarding this sale simply could not be found.
For your information MNP is now doing a forensic audit of Town sales back to 2007. This resulted after 743 residents signed a petition that such an audit be done. Our organization along with the Concerned Citizens group that launched the petition, has already brought many of the same issues that we are raising here, with documents, to the attention of MNP.
Our questions to your Ministries and departments, regarding the sale of Y and Q to Abaco, are therefore:
7) Is the Town obliged to make any portions of Y or Q, that are marsh and flood plain, and zoned identically to Parcel Z and W, as Floodway, into Environmental Reserves? Was the Town overstepping its authority, and contradicting its own Zoning Bylaw, when it sold this property to Abaco?
8) Is the Town obliged under provincial law to create access easements for its own drainage infrastructure, for the province-run Echo Lodge Long Term Care Home, and for residents who purchased property and pay local taxes, in good faith, for Blue Bill Bay Estates and Willow Court condos?
9) Is it not a serious breach of municipal due process and public trust that there is no Town record for the sale of the 6.7 acres in Block Y to Abaco?
The Town sold Abaco 17 acres in total (V, Q and Y) for $2.00. The major condition was that Abaco carry the full costs of demolishing and disposing of all rubble from the old Indian Hospital on Block V. Yet there is evidence in the Town’s own records that the Market value of this land, with buildings, was much higher than received. Crown Appraisal valued Block V, with the old Indian Hospital included, at $99,000 in 2010. The land assessment at that time apparently was over $400,000. If you add in the 10 acres in Q and Y, which had no buildings or demolition costs, it would be much higher. Contrast this to how the WSA approached its conditional land sales of Parcels Z and W to Abaco. In 2015 the WSA wanted $100,000 for these 19 acres of shoreline, which were commercially much less valuable than the Mixed-Use District zoned land on Block V.
We understand that the Town can sell land below fair market value, but shouldn’t this be publicized? And isn’t it in the public interest for the Town to ensure that the conditions of sale are fully met and that public access easements are always provided?
Also, Town records received under the QVEA Access to Information Request show that the demolition estimates that it received were as low as $236,000, not in the $400,000 to $600,000 range that was often stated publicly by the mayor or members of the Town council to try to justify this $1.00 land sale of Block V and Q to Abaco. The Purchase Agreement for the sale of V and Q to Abaco is unambiguous that demolition, disposal and rough-grade/landscape shall all be done “at Abaco’s sole cost and expense”. (See S 1(c)). Yet the Town went on to make a side-deal with Apex allowing them to dispose of the demolition waste in and beyond the Town’s old lagoon. And in turn the Town agreed to give Apex 3 acres of land in this area, called Parcel F. This side-deal clearly would reduce the costs of demolition and disposal for Abaco, even though this company was to bear all these costs. In other words, the Town has borne some of the costs that were to be solely borne by Abaco as part of the land sale agreement. This certainly raises even more questions about the purchase price of $1.00.
Further, though Apex received Town approval in April 2014 to dump old Indian Hospital rubble well beyond the old lagoons, in Parcel F, the OCP with Parcel F zoned as industrial lots (General Industrial District) was not approved until June 4, 2015. Was this process legitimate?
There certainly are some serious issues about how this side-deal was made. In an Apr. 2, 2014 letter from the Town’s Acting CAO, Kelly Schill, to Apex owner Cal Tulik, it is stated that “at a special meeting held Apr. 2, 2014 the majority of the Fort Qu’Appelle Town Council approved for you to commence hauling rubble from the old Indian Hospital site to Parcel F…In return the Town will give you 3 acres of Parcel F.” (Based on Town records, this side-deal was proposed by Apex that same day, though the letter is misdated “Apr. 2, 2013”.) Yet, in the Town files received by the QVEA on Oct. 24, 2017, there is no record that such a special meeting actually occurred. Rather the approval of this side-deal came at a later council meeting.
Also, a large section of this marsh and flood plain area, where Parcel F is located, is zoned as “Flood Fringe” in the Town’s own Zoning District Map. This means it is below the 1:500 elevation and may qualify as an environmental reserve. From our observations, the continuing dumping in this area well beyond the old lagoons, from 2014 to the present, has encroached on this Flood Fringe area.
Finally, Brian Janz, a Town councillor since 2012, was also an Abaco Director since 2008. Town files show that he did not declare his pecuniary interest until Dec. 21, 2013, 3 months after the Town agreed in Sept. 13, 2013 to sell Blocks V and Q to Abaco for $1.00. He did not declare a conflict of interest until 2016. (Any role that Janz may have played in any Town or WSA land sales to Abaco, which may be shown in several hundred pages of WSA files received after an Access to Information Request by the Concerned Citizens group responsible for the petitions, has yet to be analyzed.)
Our questions about the Town’s sale of V (where the old Indian Hospital was) and Q to Abaco and the Town’s side-deal with Apex, therefore are: 10) How can the Town justify this 17-acre land sale (giveaway) to Abaco for $2.00, which is certainly well below fair market appraisal, when it did not do a public offering and the conditions of sale were clearly not met?
11) How can the Town both agree to a Purchase Agreement with Abaco that holds this company solely responsible for bearing all demolition and disposal costs and then reward Apex, which is doing the demolition and disposal work under contract with Abaco, with 3 acres of land for disposing of the demolition material on Town land in and beyond the old lagoons?
12) Was the Town following due process when its Acting CAO approved this side-deal based on a special meeting with a majority vote, when there is no evidence from Town files that such a meeting ever took place?
13) Does the Town have a legitimate agreement with Apex, beyond the April 2014 approval to “haul rubble from the old Indian Hospital”, to continue to dump rubble and fill beyond the old lagoons into the area that encroaches on the Floor Fringe? Do they have approval from Environment for this continual dumping since 2014?
14) Is the Town providing any oversight to ensure that this dumping in Parcel F does not go into the environmentally-sensitive area zoned as Flood Fringe?
15) Also, has the Town allowed the area NE of Parcel F, which is zoned Floodway, to be used for dumping to enlarge industrial lots? Has the riparian boundary been fully respected where these lots have been created along the Qu’Appelle River? 16) Is there a need to launch a thorough provincial investigation to determine if there were any conflicts of interest that influenced these Town land sales to Abaco?
17) Finally, what is required under provincial law for a municipality to be placed under provincial trusteeship?
We realize that we are raising issues of local governance, including the legitimacy of municipal decision-making regarding land sales, along with issues pertaining to the environmental protection of marshes and flood plains, areas zoned as environmentally-sensitive Floodways or Flood Fringes. But these are inextricably linked. That is why we are sending this letter to both the Ministers of Environment and Municipal Affairs, with copies to WSA, Community Planning and Justice. While we look forward to the forthcoming MNP forensic audit report, which will go to the Town that is being investigated, we believe these issues are of such importance that they should also be independently brought to your Government’s attention.
We can only draw conclusions and ask questions based on the transparency of the Town. We therefore trust that the Town has not withheld any records from us that we should have received under our Access to Information Request. The records that we have received raise many serious issues that will be of concern to the Province. We look forward to your expeditious replies to our questions.
With much respect.
Randy Lebell, Jim Harding and Lorna Evans, QVEA Directors,
P.O Box 506,
Fort Qu’Appelle, SK, SOG1SO
c.c. Minister of Justice, Community Planning,
WSA, Official Opposition, MNP
Hon. Don Morgan
Minister of Justice
2405 Legislative Drive
Rm. 355, Leg. Bldg.
Mr. Ralph Leibel
Executive Director, Community Planning
420 - 1855 Victoria Ave.
Susan Ross, President and CEO
Water Security Agency
111 Fairford St. E.
Moose Jaw, SK.
Leader of the Opposition, c/o Cathy Sproule
NDP Environment Critic
Rm. 265, Leg. Bldg.
2405 Legislative Dr.
MNP by email
June 26, 2018
Letter to the Editor
All Fort Qu’Appelle area residents recently received an anonymous mailout telling them to vote against condo residents regaining public access to their property. This access was lost when the previous council “sold” land to Abaco without creating access easements, including to Town drainage. Those who plan to vote on the upcoming referendum will want to know why this mailout is unidentified. Anonymous sources are typically unreliable and can serve hidden vested or special interests.
The mailout is headed “The Town of Fort Qu’Appelle”, which could leave the false impression that it is official. It is filled with erroneous information. It claims Abaco’s marina project would be done “in an environmentally conscious way”, yet the land given to Abaco, all of Y and most of Q, is floodway marshland that is not to be commercially developed. Even the province withdrew its offer to sell Abaco lakeshore Crown land (Parcels W and Z) because it was floodway. It was the previous Town council that erred in giving this floodway land to Abaco for an ill-conceived marina project. The anonymous mailout also engages in personal attacks. Larry Schultz, rather than the previous council, is blamed for the controversy over regaining public access. At the June 21st public forum at the Legion we had the Town’s own records that show that Schultz originally proposed a six-unit condo complex with access off of Q. We had the minutes showing that the Town had stated that Q should never be sold because it was needed for drainage and emergency access to Echo Lodge. And we had the letter showing that Schultz was not informed by the Town, until August 11, 2014, that Q had in fact been completely privatized. This was long after his six-unit condo plan was submitted and 11 months after the land was privatized. Most of us didn’t find out what had been done until 2016, when Abaco placed the cement barriers blocking residents from their condos. Why so much secrecy about these land giveaways? Maybe the instigators knew what a mess they had created.
Where were the Abaco proponents, when the relevant facts were being publicly considered, so people could make up their own minds? No show at the June 21st public forum, of course. They would rather make their personal attacks from the shadows.
The mailout gets silly, saying that the QVEA was “formed in 2016 for private interests”. It even attacks me, implying that I am “looking to enrich Larry Schultz.” This is more than silly; it is stupid. Schultz wasn’t at any founding meetings of the QVEA. The QVEA got involved in the controversy over the land giveaways to Abaco because we are committed to protecting the marsh and creating a Marsh Interpretive Centre. This is why we exposed the toxic dumping in the old lagoon, which led the Minister of Environment to order the Town to remove 42 truckloads of contaminated soil from the marsh area. Another unnecessary expense for the ratepayers. If we don’t protect the marshes along the valley we won’t ever see lake water quality return. Plain and simple!
We are primarily concerned that the previous council sold off all public access to the marshland. They privatized Block V, with the road between the old Indian Hospital and the Nursing Home, where Blue Bill Bay Estates exist, which goes into the marsh area. They privatized all of Q, which is mostly flood plain, in spite of the council and Town engineer saying it should never be sold. They privatized all of Y, which has the Trans-Canada Trail into the marsh. And yes, in the process, the previous Town council took away legal public access to several condo owners. Shame on them, period. Over 600 residents saw the grave injustice when they signed the petition to create legal public access. The existing Town council has only acted on one item, negotiating access to its drainage. And it cost almost nothing. So why are Town officials, like the anonymous senders of the mailout, opposing condo owners getting legal public access to their property? Why are they, too, distorting what happened and trying to scapegoat Schultz? Why haven’t Town officials dissociated themselves from the anonymous mailout? Why indeed!
The Town should be a neutral and fair broker in this matter. But the Town’s mailout, like the anonymous one, tells you to vote against legal public access for these residents. Even the new administrator has taken this position, which suggests that Larry Davidson can’t be a neutral Returning Officer for the upcoming referendum.
Town officials want a “no” vote so they have an excuse to leave these roadways and trails into the marshland totally privatized under Abaco’s control. But even a hundred residents voting “no” won’t come close to the 600 plus that have already called for a just settlement to this political mess. The mess was created by the Town, when it gave away this marsh land to Abaco. The Town must now resolve the matter in a fair and just manner.
It is also time that those defending the Abaco deal and the privatization of all access into the marsh area came out of the shadows so their erroneous information and personal attacks can be exposed. I would welcome an independently moderated public forum and debate on all these matters.
Cheers, Jim Harding
May 23, 2018
Mayor and Council
Town of Fort Qu’Appelle
Dear Mayor Whiting and all Councillors:
Thank you for your March 28, 2018 letter. We wholeheartedly agree with your last statement that we all need to “seek to improve our community in a manner that is mindful of the environment.” That is the overriding objective of the QVEA. We are also encouraged that you state, in reference to our previous correspondence (and booklet “Serious Environmental and Governance Issues Facing Fort Qu’Appelle”) that “the specific items numbered 1, 2 & 3 are being addressed.” These items refer to: #1) declaring floodway areas in Town as environmental reserves, #2) lack of approval to dump beyond the old lagoon area and #3) continued dumping of toxic material in that flood plain area.
Let us start with #3.
When you sent your letter, the Town would have received the March 21st EPO from the MOE. QVEA members have been monitoring and complaining about this dumping since 2016, including with the previous mayor and council. And thanks to the FOI we have now seen the correspondence between the Town and MOE going back to 2015, after the Town approved Apex disposing of rubble from the old Indian Hospital in this marsh and flood plain area. (We remain concerned that we did not receive this information when we made our Access to Information request to the Town on August 31, 2017.) We now know that Town officials, including CAO Gail Sloan, had received warnings about this toxic dumping over the past three years, even before the QVEA officially complained in June 2016. And for the record, we remain concerned that MNP did not include these important facts in its audit, for this would certainly contradict its conclusion that the Town had environmental approval for all its actions, which was not the case. FYI we documented MNP’s major errors of omission in the May 11, 2018 Fort Times.
It is regrettable that Town officials, including during your term, did not respond positively to these concerns, and that it took an EPO to get action to clean this up. We hear it took 42 truckloads: is that a correct figure. And what will be the total costs? Can you please let us know? In our view these were unnecessary costs to the Town, had the Town acted proactively to protect the watershed.
We hope that we can all now turn a corner to be more “mindful of the environment”, as you say. This leads us to item #1, regarding floodways being protected as environmental reserves.
Parcel Y and most of Q are floodways. Y has the TCT on it and is declared a “greenspace” in the Town’s OCP. Neither floodway area can be developed so it remains disconcerting that the previous council gave this land away to Abaco for a marina. (It is clear in the Purchase Agreement with Abaco, to include Q with V for a $1.00, or the letter to purchase Y for a $1.00 that this land was “for a marina.”)
What is your council going to do to resolve this matter? We trust that you and the council are not pursuing the inappropriately-sited marina in this vulnerable area, and that you are going to act positively to protect all the vulnerable marshland along the shoreline of Echo Lake. There is no point waiting until the 2020 deadline for a Service Agreement on Y since Y cannot be developed if we are going to be mindful about the environment. And we also trust that you are not trying to purchase the adjoining WSA Crown land as a means for Abaco to end-run provincial regulations that led the WSA to withdraw Parcel W and Z from the market.
It would certainly help if the Town council made some clear statements about your intentions, and that you want to start to protect the lakes and watershed from further land-use degradation such as the toxic dumping by the old lagoon and inappropriately selling floodway land for a marina. Declaring Y and part of Q as environmental reserves will make your intentions clear. We would like to know what your plan is in this regard. Marsh Interpretive Centre: We are primarily writing to propose that we work together, in the spirit of your March 28th letter, to start to lay the groundwork for a Marsh Interpretive Centre, with a walkway and observation decks into the marsh. (A motion for the new QVEA board to pursue this initiative was moved unanimously at our April 7th AGM.) This would be a great fit with a housing development, perhaps ultimately even in Parcel V, that would be a real draw of new residents to the Town. Environmental education, partnering with Bert Fox; eco-tourism and recreational walkways for retired and other residents, would all complement each other. This would be a clear signal that the Town is going to “improve our community in a manner that is mindful of the environment.” As you will know, the most recent WSA State of the Watersheds report found the Qu’Appelle Watershed to be the “most stressed” in the whole province. With the gathering extreme weather that comes with the climate crisis we need to quickly alter practices that undercut the health and integrity of this vulnerable watershed. It is time that we all worked together to do things differently, including land use planning, to show that we want to restore and protect this watershed.
As part of your offer to work together towards this end, we would like to know whether the Town is willing to strike a Sub-Committee to work with us, and hopefully Trans-Canada Trail (TCT), Wildlife Federation, First Nations and marsh land private owners, to start to do the groundwork for such an important collaborative project. We know that there are granting bodies for serious marsh restoration projects. Such a project would be a good signal to the residents and to prospective residents that we are starting to do things differently here. Positive outcomes will follow.
We are willing to meet with you and the council, including at a Town council meeting, to pursue these discussions.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Lorna Evans, Randy Lebell, Jim Harding and Greg Van Luven - QVEA Directors
Nov. 7, 2017
Hon. Dustin Duncan,
Minister of Environment,
Province of Saskatchewan
Dear Minister Duncan:
Our organization, the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA), is committed to protect and restore the Qu’Appelle Watershed. We have established a network of hundreds of concerned people throughout the watershed. Lately we have received calls from farmers in the RM of Touchwood who are deeply concerned about the impact of the proliferation of open-pit gravel mining on the landscape, habitat and water in the area. Our group has travelled to the area, northeast of Southey, upstream in our watershed, and directly witnessed what is happening. We are now also deeply concerned.
We have contacted various officials in your government and it is becoming apparent that there is presently no regulation or political will to prevent this degradation of the land and the risks to the water.
Officials in Agriculture have informed us that they only regulate gravel pits on Crown land. And, if the escalating sale of Crown land by the Sask Party government is not curtailed, this ability to regulate and protect land and water will continue to decline.
Officials in Environment and the WSA have informed us that they can only regulate gravel pit extraction if it directly affects a watercourse (including shoreline) or, if any displaced water flows on to other people’s property, which would then require a drainage permit. (There apparently has been a successful prosecution where a gravel pit was located on the East Arm of Loon Creek, which flows into our watershed.)
We have also been informed that unless an RM has a land use policy to the contrary, private agricultural land owners can do pretty much whatever they want with open-pit gravel extraction, including no land remediation and no water quality or habitat protection, whatsoever.
One complaint that our organization received was that open-pit gravel extraction, including pumping off surface water, was occurring just across the road from the RM drinking water well. This is a shallow well in an area with a very high water table. Also, a huge tank, with toxic fuel for the heavy equipment being used, was within a stone’s throw. Also, all the heavy equipment is itself a source of contamination. We have seen, confirmed and photographed all this.
Another complaint was that the Reeve was himself extracting gravel from his farm land, which could suggest a conflict of interest. It would obviously not be in the interest of this Reeve, who is selling gravel off his land, to have the RM, which he heads, pass any land use policy that would protect the landscape and require remediation. He, like other land owners, can get a higher price for gravel if the contractor does not have to do any land remediation as part of the agreement.
We personally witnessed six areas where open-pit gravel extraction is creating huge piles of waste soil, reject gravel and till, often surrounded by now murky water. This can’t be good for the habitat or the wildlife. We have been told that there are as many as 14 such sites in this RM alone, some from earlier gravel extraction, including by the RM or the Department of Highways. This “out of sight, out of mind” approach fails the environment. The inability and/or unwillingness of those in the existing regulatory system to protect the landscape and wetlands from the impacts of such widespread open-pit gravel mining on private land raises serious environmental questions.
1) The Reeve may not technically be in a conflict of interest. But he is not obliged to ensure that the RM has a land-use policy that will protect the land and water. And it is clear that having an RM land use policy, which is discretionary, as the only way to ensure protection of landscape and water on private land, is not an effective way to protect the environment for future generations. Sustainability is about inter-generational justice. There will be new owners and users of this land in the future, and it is our generation’s responsibility to protect land and water for future generations. What is your Ministry and Government going to do about this?
2) We would also like to know whether environmental and watershed impacts were ever a consideration of your Government, when it planned the construction of the Regina Bypass, which, apparently is where most if not all of this gravel is going? Did you ever consider doing an Environmental Assessment which took into consideration the impacts of such mammoth gravel extraction and transport, far and wide, on southern SK’s, rural landscape, wetlands and water quality?
We will all have to alter our practices if we are to turn the corner in terms of protecting our vulnerable watersheds, wetlands and landscape. We would like to hear whether your Ministry and Government plans to become proactive about these matters.
Jim Harding, Randy Lebell and Lorna Evans - QVEA Directors
c.c. President of WSA, Minister of Agriculture, NDP Environmental Critic
PHOTO: Qu'Appelle River near Craven, SK
Report to Network, May 2016
The Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA) met May 11, 2016 for its monthly public meeting. People came from Pasqua and Muskowekwan First Nations, Indian Head, Fort Qu’Appelle, Fort San and the RM of North Qu’Appelle. One of QVEA’s major objectives is to build networks throughout the Qu’Appelle Valley so several people attended the May 11th meeting of the Havelock group in Earl Grey. The Havelock Special Projects Committee (HSPC) was formed by local residents concerned about the impact of the Yancoal project.
PHOTO: Red-Winged Blackbird, Echo Lake
After going through several months of research, discussion and input, QVEA’s marsh protection policy was adopted. The QVEA takes strong exception to the province’s refusal to take seriously its responsibilities for marsh protection. The province is presently off-loading marsh protection to the municipalities, such as the Town of Fort Qu’Appelle. We know that rural municipalities typically don’t make environmental protection their priority and prefer to make incremental changes to expand local development without taking into consideration the cumulative damages on riparian areas and hillsides in the valley. There is therefore a need for provincial oversight, something like the Qu’Appelle Valley Implementation Board from the 1970s.
The QVEA policy calling for proactive marsh protection in the valley will be sent to the Water Security Agency and included in planned correspondence to all levels of government. The full policy will also be sent out to the QVEA network and local media.
Most of the May 11th meeting was concerned with the proposed Yancoal solution mine near Southey. A Water Protection Working Group has been collecting and updating information on this project and a draft policy was brought to the meeting for discussion. It was approved in principle and will be the basis of a QVEA initiative to bring this matter to the attention of all provincial parties.
A Regina press conference is being planned for early June to which leaders of all opposition parties – the NDP, Liberals, Greens and Progressive Conservatives, will be invited. The QVEA is not looking for the opposition parties to endorse all of its policies but it does think that the matter of Saskatchewan’s future water security and protection of the Qu’Appelle Valley is bigger than political parties. The QVEA wants all the opposition parties to show that they care about what is happening and to join the QVEA and other groups like the Havelock group to help bring this vital conversation to a province-wide level.
Concern was expressed about the government’s fast-tracking the approval process, having added only 15 days to a total of 45 days for public input, when the government had Yancoal material for up two years. There was great concern expressed that the province was seriously considering piping water, equivalent to 50% of the amount used by Regina, all the way from Buffalo Pound to the Yancoal mine, especially when the water supply to Buffalo Pound is from Lake Diefenbaker which will become more insecure with climate change. It is unacceptable that all this precious surface water will be taken out of the natural system.
There were many questions about the long-term impact of injecting solution mine waste water under the Hatfield Aquifer, especially since we are seeing catastrophic effects elsewhere from fracking and wastewater injection. There was also great concern that this Chinese state corporation would operate outside the commercial market and the marketing firm Canpotex and could undermine the province’s revenue-sharing system. And a lot of concern was expressed about the long-term effects downstream on the Qu’Appelle Valley. Not only would Yancoal’s project divert massive amounts of surface water which would then never flow through the Calling Lakes, but these Calling Lakes are also downstream from the inevitable Yancoal impacts from such things as salt drifting on the land, air and waterways.
QVEA’s policy on the Yancoal project includes five points which will be forwarded to the province:
1. Yancoal’s Southey Project should immediately be taken off the fast-track to allow public due diligence to prevail;
2. Until a credible sustainable water strategy which takes climate change into account is developed there should be a moratorium on all mega-water industrial projects;
3. As a minimum a panel of fully independent hydrologists should be formed to report on all the pertinent research about underground waste water injection before any serious consideration is given to approving this or other similar projects;
4. There must be full public disclosure of all agreements and obligations made by the Saskatchewan government regarding Yancoal or regarding the Chinese-Canada FIPA trade agreement which have any bearing on the long-term public interest in resource royalties and revenues;
5. Before this project goes any further there must be a full, informed public discussion of the implications of the Yancoal project for the quantity and quality of water passing through the Qu’Appelle Watershed.
It was decided that the QVEA would rent space to do information-sharing at the Farmers Market throughout the summer. Immediately a member stepped forward and offered a large donation to pay for all these costs. Watch for the QVEA table and feel free to come over and discuss your concerns about what’s happening to the Qu’Appelle Valley. Updated literature on marsh and water protection will be available.
Special Report to the Fort Times
The Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA) has had a busy summer. We had to work hard to meet the government’s tight timeline to comment on the EIS for Yancoal’s potash solution mine. Our June 6th Regina press conference was a great success, drawing out all of the media. We raised the vital issues about water diversion, risks to the Hatfield aquifer, land pollution, potash royalties and downstream impacts on the Qu’Appelle Valley.
There was no response to us or other concerned groups prior to the government rubber-stamping the Yancoal project in early August. The province’s environmental assessment process is clearly broken and the QVEA will continue to work with opposition parties and grass-roots groups to get this changed.
The QVEA has been running an Information Table at the Farmers’ Market all summer. We have distributed hundreds of leaflets on our Mission, our work to protect the local marshes and on the Yancoal project. The Saturday after the Husky oil spill in the North Saskatchewan River we distributed 125 copies of our statement on the spill. We now know from Auditor’s reports (2012, 2014) that this was a preventable event and that the province must be held accountable to enforce pipeline safety regulations.
We have been collecting names of people throughout the Valley who want to be informed of our activities and our steadily growing contact list is now over 100 people. We continue with our monthly meetings (second Wednesday of the month), drawing an average of 15 people for educational discussions and planning further activities.
At the June meeting we decided to support Pasqua First Nation in their court case with the federal and provincial governments for not adequately consulting when they sold part of the Fort Qu’Appelle marsh to the US energy company Abaco. The QVEA was misinformed by the Water Security Agency (WSA) that this had been done.
At our July meeting the QVEA reported on its research on the Town of Fort Qu’Appelle dumping toxic asphalt in the marsh area by the old lagoon. The QVEA will continue to work for effective enforcement of provincial environmental and waste management legislation on all local governments in the Valley.
QVEA News for Our Contact Network
The QVEA decided to host an election forum prior to the October 26th municipal elections so that the serious environmental and other issues facing valley residents can be candidly discussed with candidates for mayor, reeve and councils. The QVEA hosted a similar forum prior to the provincial election which packed the local Legion Hall. The municipal election forum will be held at the Fort Qu’Appelle Legion Hall on Friday October 21st starting at 7 pm.
A range of questions will be provided to all candidates well in advance of the public forum. Questions will include: How to start to clean up the lakes? How to strengthen a local economy that builds on the historical, environmental and recreational significance of the Qu’Appelle Valley? Whether amalgamation would provide better governance and valley protection? How indigenous and settler communities could better work together to protect the valley? How to get local governments to protect hillsides, marshes and river banks? All members of the voting public are invited to bring their concerns about what is happening to the valley to the October 21st election forum.
On September 19th Lorna Evans and Randy Lebell presented at the Open Mike session and Jim Harding appeared as a Witness. The QVEA Brief “Environmental Protection and Electoral Reform” was discussed and amended at its September 14th monthly meeting before being taken to the Standing Committee. It calls for a system of Proportional Representation (PR) so that we no longer get majority-power governments with only minority support. The QVEA reminded the panel of MPs that the Omnibus Bill that deregulated the Qu’Appelle Watershed was passed by the Harper government which was elected in 2011 with only 24% of support among eligible voters. The QVEA Brief argued that the freedom of expression and equality principle in the Canadian Charter requires electoral reform so that every vote counts. Canadians should be able to vote on the basis of conscience; having to vote strategically undermines the principle of fair representation in our democracy.
The QVEA Brief argued that electoral reform was needed so that vital inter-provincial environmental challenges such as watershed protection got better attention. Our existing system not only polarizes regions but it undermines the cooperative federalism required to tackle long-term problems like climate change. It turns local representation into appeasing the special interest power base of MPs who are usually elected with less than majority support.
The QVEA presentations will be viewable on CPAC. It will also be sent out to our contact network.
PHOTO: Echo Lake
Special Report to the Fort Times
The QVEA formed in February 2016. In our first ten months, we held two well-attended election forums. We raised provincial awareness about the threats to our watershed from several upstream potash solution mines. These would permanently take billions of cubic metres of water out of the natural flow.
We distributed hundreds of leaflets on marsh and water protection at the local Farmers’ Market. We had hundreds of valuable conversations. We are in our third printing of the local Kairos-created “We Are All Waterkeepers”, which has sold 300 copies across the watershed. Our contact list continues to grow with each event; we now have 170 people who want to be kept informed.
In the Blofield Conservation and Development (C & D) District, 90% of all marshes under 10 acres can be drained in a 22,000 Acre area. The sediment and toxins will flow into the marsh area adjacent to Buffalo Pound lake, the source of drinking water for one-quarter of the Saskatchewan population and upstream from the Qu’Appelle Valley watershed.
We were invited to visit farmers in the Kipling area who are appealing the C & D District’s environmentally-destructive drainage practices. The C & D District levies costs to local farmers even if they don’t get any agricultural benefits.
The QVEA will continue to build networks with those working for marsh and water protection throughout our waterways.
The QVEA is working on a detailed political and legal chronology of the decisions which threaten our marshes. It will be released as a Public Interest Working Paper in 2017. A public forum on these vital matters will be organized in the New Year. If we want to restore clean lake water, we simply must protect the marshes.
At its December 2016 meeting the QVEA created a new Working Group to build relations with the Treaty Alliance which opposes Enbridge’s Line-3 pipeline. This pipeline will go right across southern Saskatchewan and will affect the Qu’Appelle Watershed. We plan to make links with First Nations in Minnesota, where Line-3 involves a completely new route through traditional territory, and in Manitoba where First Nations are opposing Line-3 in the Federal Court.
The QVEA is finalizing its statement on the failure of the Wall government to be proactive about the necessary shift away from the fossil-fuel and carbon economy. Wall’s grandstanding over carbon pricing will not distract growing public awareness about the need for enlightened energy and agricultural policies to protect water and the environment.
The QVEA is exploring a provincial forum on Earth Day (April 21-22) to bring together groups working to respect and protect water, vulnerable eco-regions, treaties and to advance renewable energy. At present Saskatchewan is not on a sustainable path. Watch for more details in the New Year.
Our application for non-profit status will be approved in the New Year. We will be holding our founding AGM in 2018.
Everyone is invited to our monthly meetings, the second Wednesday of each month, alternating at 7 and 3 pm. The watershed needs your help. Happy New Year to everyone.
Lorna, Randy, Jim and Mike - QVEA Organizing Team
Photo: The Western Producer - Flooded farm in Quill Lakes area
Special Report, March 14, 2017
At its March 8th monthly meeting the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA) discussed preventing the high-salt Quill Lakes’ water from threatening fish habitats in the Qu’Appelle Watershed. Members debated whether to support the province’s Bill 44 on regulating illegal drainage and heard a report from its Working Group on the Line 3 pipeline. The Line 3 Pipeline would bring nearly one million barrels of toxic tar sands oil per day through the Qu’Appelle Watershed.
The meeting was attended by eighteen people from Indian Head, Regina, Qu’Appelle, the RM, Pasqua First Nations, Fort San and Fort Qu’Appelle. Kerry Holderness, of the Quill Lakes Watershed Association and several Indigenous women, including Sue Deranger from the Mother Earth Justice Advocates in Regina, were special guests.
After lengthy discussion, a motion was passed on the Quill Lakes. It reads: “The QVEA supports a diversion of fresh water from entering the Quill Lakes (QL) because this can help reduce the chances of the more saline QL water overflowing into the Qu’Appelle Watershed (QW). The QVEA supports holding as much of this diverted water on the land to allow for evaporation, rather than directly diverting it into the QW. The diverted water will still have nutrients and agricultural toxins which will further degrade the QW. The QVEA does not support the injection of QL saline water into aquifers because aquifers must be protected and not become a repository for waste water.”
Another motion passed on provincial drainage reads: “The QVEA supports the provincial plan to require permits for any and all drainage because there has to be an accurate record of drainage for effective regulation and protection of the QW. The QVEA supports the increase in penalties for illegal drainage as there should be major consequences for actions that degrade waterways and the QW. The QVEA does not support the reliance on local ‘petitioners’ to initiate an investigation of drainage and possible enforcement because this will continue to make drainage regulation a matter of local politics. It would pit neighbor against neighbor. The QVEA does not support the province off-loading drainage regulation enforcement to RMs or the delegating of drainage planning to Conservation & Development (C&D) Districts because local conflicts of interest will continue to undermine the integrity and effectiveness of drainage regulation.”
The QVEA also supported exploring a Qu’Appelle Watershed Protection Buffer Zone along the sides of the Qu’Appelle Valley and to further investigate compensation for farmers who are protecting ecologically-valuable marshes or losing arable land for flood management. Thirty-three thousand (33,000) acres have been lost to flooding in the Quill Lakes area and this could expand to 87,000 acres if a flood management plan, including an organized drainage plan and wetland protection plan, is not soon forthcoming.
The QVEA endorsed the Treaty Alliance Against the Tar sands which already has 120 First Nations, including two from Saskatchewan, onside. The meeting approved a public information leaflet on the Line 3 Pipeline. It highlights the lack of transparency, noting that Line 3 will pump more toxic diluted bitumen than even the more high-profile Keystone Pipeline. The plan is to tunnel the new Line 3 pipeline under the Qu’Appelle River near Bethune.
The QVEA will encourage public information leafleting on April 22nd, Earth Day, at Saskatchewan banks that are funding Line 3. This will take place locally at the Fort Qu’Appelle CIBC bank, a financial backer of Line 3. The QVEA is encouraging Canadian banks to divest from fossil fuels and help make the shift to a low-carbon economy. At present Saskatchewan has the highest per capita carbon footprint in all of Canada, higher than even Alberta and one of the highest globally.
QVEA’s Line 3 Working Group is made up of Dan Bellegarde, Mike Bray, Lorna Evans, Jim Harding, Randy Lebell and Florence Pearpoint. They will soon announce a press conference on the threats that Line 3 presents to our watershed. Weekly newspapers within the Qu’Appelle Watershed will all be invited.
QVEA’s next monthly meeting will be on April 12th at 2 pm at the Qu’Appelle Valley Centre for the Arts. Everyone is invited to bring their environmental concerns about what is happening to the Qu’Appelle Valley. At that meeting we will hear a report on local land sales and marsh and riverbank protection. A tour of Environmental Hot Spots in Fort Qu’Appelle is being planned for May.
Special Report to the Fort Times June 14, 2017
Fourteen people attended the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA) monthly meeting held June 14th. People came from Fort Qu’Appelle, Regina, Lipton, Fort San and the RM.
The main topic was the QVEA Public Interest Working Paper that was initiated after the municipal election. At the Nov. 9, 2016 meeting, it was agreed to start research on the Town’s land sales to Abaco, and to explore possible conflicts of interest, the duty to consult and the implications of the proposed marina for the local environment. Also, we agreed to look at “rights of access” when, on Nov. 3rd, Abaco and Apex officials blocked Willow Court residents from accessing their homes.
There was intense discussion about the Town selling over 17 acres of valuable lakeside property to Abaco for $2.00. If this was because Abaco would cover the estimated $500,000 demolition costs, why did the Town also agree that Apex could reduce its hauling costs and avoid landfill fees by dumping demolition materials in the old lagoon area? And why, some participants asked, did the Town then also give Apex 3 acres of valuable industrial lots?
The lack of an appraisal of fair market value or public offering of the land was also discussed. The fact that the Water Security Agency (WSA) had also sold the adjoining crown land to Abaco, within a week of it being transferred from the Harper government, was also discussed.
QVEA’s Working Paper outlines how all these land sales to Abaco were done without any public consultation. The WSA sold crown land to Abaco before it even informed Pasqua First Nations, which is a requirement under the Duty to Consult. It even misinformed the QVEA about this. The province also off-loaded its responsibility for the environmental assessment of the impacts of Abaco’s marina proposal. This responsibility was going to the Town, even though Fort Qu’Appelle had already sold and rezoned this land for a marina.
At its June 14th meeting the QVEA gave an update on its Power Point Project, which will show the extent of environmental neglect in Fort Qu’Appelle. It also announced that it was now a Non-Profit organization and that it would soon start a membership and fund-raising drive throughout the Valley.
The QVEA has enough factual information to issue its first leaflet on these matters, which will be available at its information table at the Farmers’ Market on June 24th. The QVEA will also be helping the Concerned Citizens group to collect signatures to its Petition.
PHOTO: Echo Lake
Submission by the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA) to the Fort Qu’Appelle Council, December 19, 2017
On August 17, 2017 the QVEA made an official request for 33 Town documents related to land sales to Abaco Energy Services during 2013-15. We had been asking for documents since it was rumoured, in 2015, that a marina was proposed for the Blue Bill Bay Marsh area behind the old Indian Hospital site. That is when we set up our Marsh Protection Working Group, which issued its Public Interest Working Paper on August 31, 2017. This will soon be updated.
On Oct. 24, 2017 we received 136 pages of Town files. There were still many missing files, as well as a few that we were told we could not have or could pursue elsewhere. But what was provided allows us to factually piece together some hitherto unknown or confusing things. Here we deal with the dispute over these land sales not including public access easements.
Town documents confirm that on Sept. 13, 2013 the previous council decided to sell Block V, where the old Indian Hospital existed, to Abaco Energy Services of North Dakota. But they also threw in Block Q, on the east side of Blocks N and YY, where Blue Bill Bay Estates were built and other lots had been rezoned for residential use. Most startling, the previous council sold both V and Q to Abaco without creating any public or Town access easements.
Just why did they do this? The roadway on Block V was required for rear access to the fully-inhabited Blue Bill Bay Estates and Block Q had been used for decades, including by Town public works, various contractors, Echo Lodge Nursing Home, as well as for the general public’s access to the river and walking trails. It was also a historic trail for Indigenous people.They sold away access to their own drainage infrastructure, including to a culvert and drainage ditch. They privatized access to Echo Lodge’s rear entrance and also to the rear entrance to existing or planned condos. The Town documents show that the Blue Bill Bay Estates development had been approved in 2008-09, five years before Abaco was sold the adjoining land. Yet, when Block V was sold to Abaco the access rights of the Blue Bill Bay Estates residents to the rear of their property were completely ignored.
Some people, apparently now including the new Town mayor, Jerry Whiting, still try to justify the sale of all this valuable, lake-adjacent land (V and Q equal 11 acres) for $1.00. They argue that Abaco inherited the costs of demolition on Block V. However, there has been no disclosure on the actual demolition costs or the fair market value of this land. And a side-deal made by the Town with Apex, allowing Apex to dump demolition materials from the old Indian Hospital in the flood plain by the old lagoon, has to be taken into account regarding these costs. In Part 3 we’ll address what Town files reveal about these matters.
And, even if you accept this reasoning for Block V, it does not apply to Block Q, which had no demolition or other costs associated with it. Or to Block Y, that abuts the shoreline, which was hastily sold (given) to Abaco, also for $ 1.00 in August 2015. This brought the valuable land that Abaco got for $2.00 to 17 acres. And the wider public should be aware that there are no council minutes about this land sale.
Y was sold (given) to Abaco after their offer to purchase lakeshore Crown land from the WSA was challenged in court by Pasqua First Nation. This hastily-made deal, which members of the past council clearly did not fully comprehend, was to ensure that Abaco had access to the shoreline. And, as with V and Q, Block Y was also sold without any easements; there most surely should have been one to fully protect the Trans-Canada Trail. Now the local Lions Club will not rebuild its marsh observation deck along the Trail.
So, the publicly-used roadway on Block Q, and then Y, were completely privatized for business access to a hypothetical and highly-questionable marina complex in a vulnerable marsh habitat. This, even though this land had provided access to public works, the Nursing Home, land zoned for residential use and to the lake and river. There was clearly something fishy going on here, which we will discuss in more depth in Part 2 and 3.
It was not generally known that the previous Town council had even done all this. It was not discussed at QVEA’s October 21, 2016 public forum prior to the Oct. 26, 2016 municipal election. None of the candidates, including those who were on the previous council, brought up the specifics. Abaco director and councillor Brian Janz and councillor Lee Finishen did not attend and councillor Jeff Brown did not raise these details. Perhaps, with a Town election coming, they did not want the voting public to find out what they had done. But there was growing public suspicion in the air.
There has been a serious crisis in transparency and a failure of local democracy over these years, from 2013-16. And it increasingly looks like collusion and conflict of interest were at play in the decision making on the last council, which we will also look at, in more depth, at a later date. The independent audit required by the Concerned Citizens petition received by the Town in October 2017 will hopefully bring some more revelations to light.
It wasn’t until after the new mayor and council took office that what had happened became clearer. On Nov. 3, 2016, a few days after the Town election, when both Janz and Brown lost their seats, Abaco had local contractor Apex Enterprises, who had also done the demolition work for Abaco, install cement barriers to block the access to Willow Court condos, that were adjacent to Block Q. Only then did the broader public begin to understand what the previous council had done three years before.
We are only now starting to find out what happened during this dark period of local government. Town files show that during 2014, Blacktty Enterprises had initiated planning for the Willow Court condos on Lot YY, which were adjacent to Block Q. The previous Town mayor and council clearly knew that this plan was forthcoming. Town records show that on April 9, 2009, Block N, where the old Nurses Residence existed, was zoned as a Residential Subdivision. A section of N was later subdivided into YY, where Willow Court condos were to be built.
It is perhaps ironic that this motion (95-09) to approve residences on this property was moved by councillor Jeff Brown, for he later moved the motion to sell both Block V and Q to Abaco without any public easements for the previously approved residences. It is also noticeable that the Town could not find any records on the actual sale of Block N, but it is our understanding that it received $35,000 for this small area, which included the costs of dealing with the old Nurses Residence. We can legitimately contrast this sale to Blacktty, with how the Town later dealt preferentially with Abaco, which got 17 acres of prime land for $2.00. In Part 2 we will discuss the implications of the missing Town records about the sales to Abaco.
Town files show that Blacktty submitted front and rear view designs and floor plans dated June 3, 2014, followed by garage and foundation plans, dated July 30, 2014. These plans were all based on there being the public roadway, which gave the Town access to their drainage infrastructure and provided rear access to Echo Lodge.
However, Town files also show that it was not until August 7, 2014 that the Acting CAO, Kelly Schill, officially informs Blacktty that the Town had previously sold Block Q; she writes Larry Schultz of Blacktty, that the Town “no longer owns the property located next to your lot (Block YY, Plan 101994723)”. She continues, “The Town sold the property (Parcel Q, Plan 77R09773) in the fall of 2013.” She does not specifically say that the public roadway, also providing access to Town drainage and Echo Lodge, was completely privatized. Schill would know all these details, for she was the only person who signed the final Purchase and Demolition Agreement on behalf of the Town on Jan. 16, 2014. She does however, say that Blacktty can “contact Brian (a local contact for ABACO)”. Schill is referring Blacktty to Town Councillor, but also Abaco Director since 2008, Brian Janz.
This already raises serious matters of conflict of interest, which will be addressed in Part 2. For now, it is most important to note that the official communication to Blacktty Enterprises about this public roadway being privatized without any easements, came a full 11 months after the council decision to sell. We now have to ask whether some decision makers were trying to hide what they had done.
It is clear from the Town files that Blacktty, like most of the public at that time, did not know what the Town had done. The August 7, 2014 letter from the Town’s Acting CAO has a drawing attached submitted by Blacktty which shows six condo units on Parcel YY, with access from “joint use with nursing home”. It also shows the Town drainage system is in this roadway, so it is completely understandable that Blacktty would assume this is a public access.
Remember that in 2009 the Town had rezoned this whole area as residential. It had approved the construction of the Blue Bill Bay Estates, with public access to the rear using Block V. There was no reason to not assume that the public roadway on Block Q would not also be available for access.
The Acting CAO, however, informs Blacktty that access to their condos must now “be off of Broadway directly on to Parcel YY.” Schill says “the only option” may be disrupting “the trees on the rear of the lot”, and adds “should the trees be removed…you could then ask for a reduced set back from Council allowing for a larger frontage for a driveway.” It is clear from this that there was no serious consideration given, no due diligence by the Town’s previous mayor and council, or its Acting CAO or lawyer, about the implications for Town residents of the sale (give away) of Block V or Q to Abaco.
We need to be very clear what was happening at the time. Blacktty is in the middle of its planning-design process, on land previously zoned residential. There is a publicly-used roadway, in use for decades, adjacent to its property. Then, belatedly, Blacktty is informed that the public roadway has been fully privatized. It is noticeable that the Town’s Acting CAO fails to mention that this privatization of Block V and Q also detrimentally affects the Town’s own access to its drainage, and ends legal access to long-existing Echo Lodge, or to the rear entrance of the fully inhabited Blue Bill Bay Estates. The exclusion of this pertinent information enables Abaco proponents to try to confuse the public by narrowing the controversy over access to only Willow Court.
The ramifications of what the previous council did on Sept. 13, 2013 and the politics going on behind the scene at that time, are still being discovered. We still do not have full transparency. However, Town files received after QVEA’s August 17, 2017 official Access to Information request are helping fill in the gaps. As we will show in Part 2 and 3, the files that are missing may tell us even more.
After August 7, 2014, things went from bad to worse. Blacktty scrambles to alter its plan, first scaling down the six-unit plan to four, in hope that access can be provided off Broadway. This, itself, shows how the Town’s September 13, 2013 decision to privatize the publicly-used roadway, as part of selling (giving) Block Q to Abaco, had direct, negative financial implications for Blacktty.
Town files show that after receiving the August 7, 2014 letter, Blacktty submitted new construction plans and that on September 4, 2014 it applied for permits. This information was forwarded by the Acting CAO to Professional Building Inspectors (PBI) on Sept. 14, 2014. (See Permit Nos. 14-016-14-019). This created new costs for the developer. Town files also show that on Sept. 23, 2014, the PBI inspector reviewed a new four-unit plan, now showing two units off Broadway and two along the back of YY. It also shows a 11-foot driveway between unit B and Block Q. Town files also show that a Development Permit to “construct multi-unit dwelling”, which is “valid for a period of 12 months” was issued, dated July 16, 2015. This approval form permit, No 15-009, includes 8 conditions, such as # 4, that Blacktty “provide for the connection to the municipal sewer and water”, and # 8, provide “vehicle access and egress points”.
The confusion during this period and the conflict that was generated was fundamentally rooted in the Town’s lack of transparency. And the “solutions” suggested by the Acting CAO on August 7, 2014 were easier said than done. As it turned out the inspector, the Acting CAO, the Town foreman, as well as Blue Bill Bay owners and Blacktty had all failed to discover an error made about the location of the property line between N and YY. Blue Bill Bay Estates had previously installed a chain-link fence which turned out to be several feet inside YY, but no one had caught this. Utility survey pins may have inadvertently been used instead of those for the private property line.
This was discovered when the sewer and water lines were installed and the driveway poured to provide access off Broadway to YY. So, when the condos that were approved were constructed it was found that there was not room to the east of unit B for an 11-foot driveway.
A few people have erroneously tried to hang this mess on Larry Schultz, but Town files do not support this view. Even if this property line error had been discovered prior to building of the Willow Court condos, the decision made by the Town in Sept. 2013 would still have left Blue Bill Bay Estates residents, Echo Lodge Nursing Home and the Town without legal public access to their property. And there would still be a petition to the Town calling for it to create public access easements. There is now also some doubt whether the proposed 11-foot driveway would have been able to provide adequate or legal access to all vehicles that would have had to enter the property.
The vast majority of Fort Qu’Appelle residents were kept in the dark about what the previous council had done back in Sept. 2013. But Abaco director and past councillor Brian Janz, and past councillor Jeff Brown, who had moved all the motions to sell (give) this land to Abaco, clearly knew what the council had done. For, on Nov. 3, 2016, within a few days of losing their seats on the Town council, Abaco had Apex Enterprises install cement barriers to block access to all Willow Court residents. For well over a year now the barriers, blocking all vehicular access to people’s homes, have been a great burden to those living there.
And it should be clear that Abaco could have done the same thing at the back entrance to Blue Bill Bay Estates, or the back entrance of the Nursing Home, as they now own all this adjacent property. The targeting of Willow Court was clearly vindictive and personal, which has poisoned relationships within the community. Meanwhile, the new mayor and council have to date failed to take any serious or effective action to resolve the access issue.
The wider public knew that something was fundamentally wrong. And in early October 2017 a Citizens Group delivered a petition with 619 names calling for the Town to create easements on V and Q to ensure public access. It also delivered one with 743 names that requires the Town to have an independent audit done of its land sales back to 2007. Soon after, perhaps as its response to the petitions, Abaco installed a permanent chain-link fence along the property line between Q and YY.
Photo: Fort Times
Two of the four units built in Willow Court, first blocked by cement barriers and now by a metal fence, remain empty because you can’t sell condos that do not have access. This shows another financial cost resulting from the irresponsible decision made by the Town back in Sept. 2013 and the failure of the new council to quickly create an access easement.
On July 22, 2017 Willow Court owners requested that Blue Bill Bay Estates share their off-Broadway entry, which goes into their underground parking lot, to “allow temporary access” into YY. This was turned down and on September 29, 2017 Willow Court owners asked for Blue Bill Bay Estates to move its chain-link fence off of YY property to see if there was room for this access. But this would not only involve removing trees but having a SaskPower pole and SaskTel pedestal relocated, and curb cutting done, which would involve additional costs. It would not at all be fair for the burden of all the costs resulting from such irresponsible land sales, without easements, by a previous Town council, to be placed on to the Willow Court owner-residents.
Until now there has been a serious lack of transparency about this irresponsible action by the previous Town council. With our new revelations, the fair and cost-effective thing to do is create easements on V and Q that guarantee legal, public access for Echo Lodge, the Town, Willow Court and Blue Bill Bay Estates residents. Privately negotiating conditional access agreements with Abaco for Echo Lodge or the Town, but not for Willow Court, without addressing and resolving the fundamental issue, will not do.
The time for displacing responsibility and victim-blaming is over. The mayor and council were elected to serve the public interest, not to defend bad land deals, or protect a U.S.-based company that has not been acting, at all, as a good neighbour.
Politicizing and personalizing this has not helped solve the problem. This does not help the public gain the necessary understanding of what happened and why. The existing council has to take action that will start to restore public confidence in local government. It should not make a bad situation worse and waste money on a referendum. The 600 to 700 plus signatures that have called on this council to create legal public access easements and to have an independent audit of land sales, are almost double the number of votes received by the present mayor or any councillor. So, please, Fort Qu’Appelle mayor and council, get on with righting the wrongs; doing the right thing. Act now on the voters’ and residents’ petition calling for public access easements. There must be justice for residents, now.
Submitted by Jim Harding, Lorna Evans and Randy Lebell on behalf of the QVEA.
PHOTO: Tourism Saskatchewan
The Calling Lakes and the Qu’Appelle Watershed that feeds them are sick. Sewage, toxic agricultural run-off and extreme weather flooding are all contributing to the decline. Our area will not be a viable tourist or retirement destination if we don’t come to grips with this. We need an Action Plan to start to clean up the lakes.
If those of us who live here don’t initiate this process, who will? How do we expect others to care if we don’t show we care?
Regina has finally upgraded its wastewater treatment system after many decades of polluting the Lower Qu’Appelle watershed. Regina has been 20 years behind other prairie cities in modernizing its wastewater treatment system and our downstream recreational valley has paid a huge cost. We will have to watch closely to see if the upgrades put a complete end to downstream contamination. Pharmaceutics are also now entering the Lower Qu’Appelle.
We hope that this will be the beginning of a turn-around, so that our grandchildren along with the birds, fish and game get to enjoy cleaner water. But we can’t be naïve: new threats to water quality and lake health are already upon us.
1) With extreme weather flooding from climate change there will be even more pathogens and toxic run-off going into the watershed and lakes;
2) Plans are underway to divert massive amounts of upstream water for several potash solution mines and we will be downstream from toxic waste;
3) Lakefronts, riverbanks, hillsides and marshes in the Qu’Appelle Valley continue to be abused through poorly regulated or totally unregulated activities.
These present serious threats to the health of the Qu’Appelle Valley:
Flooding, run-off and poorly regulated drainage occur all along the Qu’Appelle Valley. A consortium of farmers in the Blofield Conservation and Development District now want to divert water from 22,000 acres of land directly into the marshland that abuts Buffalo Pound Lake. The WSA greatly underestimated the area to be affected and has almost no restrictions – 90% of all wetlands that are less than 10 acres can be drained without any mitigation for nutrient loading, habitat loss or impact of increased flow. This drainage will further contaminate Buffalo Pound, which can further degrade the source water. Remember that both Regina and Moose Jaw get their drinking water from Buffalo Pound. In May 2015 Regina faced a 50% decline in drinking water due to early spring algae bloom; this will increase with climate change.
Source water must be protected. Yet this increase in contamination of Buffalo Pound Lake is presently being seriously considered.
The Chinese corporation Yancoal will annually divert up to 13 million cubic metres (mcm) of water from Buffalo Pound Lake and the Upper Qu’Appelle for its Southey potash solution mine. The water consumption by just this one mine is one-half the amount Regina uses annually. This water will be permanently taken out of the watershed and the toxic wastewater will be pumped under the Hatfield Aquifer, upon which many Saskatchewan people already depend. Several potash solution mines already draw from Buffalo Pound (Mosaic), have been approved to draw from Buffalo Pound (K & S, Yancoal) or are in some planning stage to draw valuable water from Buffalo Pound (Vale, Western Potash, Karnalyte, and Encano-Muskowekwan). This will not be sustainable!
Water conservation and protection must become our new bottom line. This is especially true for our prairie region and the already highly stressed Qu’Appelle Watershed.
Marshes help filter and clean the water as it passes from one lake to another. Yet our marshes are being abused and threatened by environmentally-inappropriate projects, like the proposed marina at the mouth of the Qu’Appelle River which flows out of Echo Lake. Toxic asphalt has been dumped near the marshland by the old lagoon where the town is creating industrial lots. The riverbanks, which should be a destination for eco-tourism, are being neglected and abused. Beautiful hillsides are being cut into and even leveled without regard. It is hard to imagine a future with tourists and retirees being attracted here if this trend continues. We need to start to protect and reclaim special natural places, like the riverside area behind the Museum which leads into the marsh trail by the old hospital, and enhance the quality of life and attractiveness of the town and area.
Our future economy and the environmental health of the Qu’Appelle Valley are now intertwined. We need an Action Plan with solid local support to address and start to reverse the present counter-productive trends.
October 19, 2016
PHOTO: J. Lauder
Municipalities, by law, are to “provide good government”. This means they are to “foster social, economic and environmental well-being”. In an era of extreme weather from climate change “environment means environment”; environmental well-being means preserving biodiversity, habitats and protecting our watersheds. Environmental well-being requires standing up for environmental health and for preserving natural beauty.
This is true even from a narrow economic perspective. With extreme weather the costs of maintaining municipal infrastructures will continue to skyrocket. Our overall quality of life suffers when the water quality and natural beauty of the Qu’Appelle Valley continue to decline. If we don’t make environmental protection a priority it’s going to be very hard to maintain or enhance social or economic well-being.
Saskatchewan has the most municipalities per population in all of Canada. We have 782 municipalities; with 13 times the population, Ontario has only 444. Though 40% of Saskatchewan’s population lives in the two large cities, we have an additional 460 urban municipalities. Two hundred of these are villages or resort villages with only a few hundred or less residents. Though in a few decades the number of farms has dropped from 100,000 to 30,000, we still have 296 rural municipalities. Something is out of whack!
Having all these municipalities makes it hard if not impossible to effectively respond to all the environmental and infrastructural challenges we face. Saskatchewan has 26,000 KM of highways. The way things have evolved, depopulating rural municipalities are always tempted to use high property assessments in new resort hamlets as a tax base to fund rural services. This encourages reactive, conflict-ridden and non-transparent local politics, when we desperately need proactive, accountable community-building policies and decision-making.
A study done for the province a decade ago concluded that we have a “fragmented and dysfunctional municipal government structure”. But the province, which controls legislation on municipalities, has not been willing to take any positive action. The main political parties see no political payoff from calling a spade a spade.
We’ve had our heads in the sand about climate change, extreme weather and Saskatchewan’s huge carbon footprint. Not only do we have the largest per capita carbon footprint in the country but one of the largest on the planet. It won’t do us any good to also keep our heads in the sand about our fragmented and dysfunctional municipal structure.
Perhaps the change must start from below, from where people can better see the need for such change, such as within the Qu’Appelle Valley.
Many areas like resort villages and hamlets might rightly be called “rurban”; they are neither rural or what we think of as urban. These areas are increasing with our growing retirement population. They are especially likely to develop in recreational and naturalist areas like the Qu’Appelle Valley.
Yet these growing areas typically slip between town and country. Neither traditional urban nor rural municipalities directly address their needs. These areas are sometimes even played off between traditional local governments. RM’s can ignore the need for amenities in these tax-lucrative sub-divisions, which then places an additional burden on nearby town infrastructures. We see this trend in the Qu’Appelle Valley where tax-lucrative RM sub-divisions at Pasqua, Taylor Beach or at Jasmine have not been developed as enhanced recreational communities. They lack common public boat launches and have few if any green spaces, which places more pressure on the towns and provincial parks. The way the RM governs these “rurban” areas do not get fair representation by taxation.
Could amalgamation lead to fairer, more proactive policies and decisions? Would it be better to have resort villages and hamlets electing representatives to a district council? Would it be better to reorganize RM’s so that they can do what they need to do to ensure rural services? Should the province step up so that local governments can start to focus on good governance and social, economic and environmental well-being?
Of course some elected officials who like their local turf and their often unaccountable local power are going to argue that amalgamation will lead to a loss of identity and local control. And some administrators, who may face conflicts of interest within the existing fragmented, highly politicized municipal system, may also try to save the sinking ship. But the proof is in the pudding. We not only see an embarrassingly low voter turn-out (as low as 25%) in municipal elections but many positions are being filled by acclamation. This is symptomatic of the deepening crisis in our local democracy.
In actuality these reforms would start to enhance community identity and participation in local governance. They would also help to make local administration more like a professional public service. All the widespread concerns that we collectively have about what is happening to our Valley, to the water and lakes, the hillsides, riverbanks and marshes, could be more directly addressed, as they should.
Under our antiquated municipal structure, the most vital issues easily get lost sight of in the highly partisan and personalized politics that comes with dysfunctional fragmentation. We can’t see or even talk clearly about the forest for the trees. Only the “trees” in our back yard seem to matter. Everything else, the watershed, the landscape, the quality of governance, falls between the cracks. Such fragmentation will never encourage us to care for the Qu’Appelle Valley as a whole and caring is what we need to start to do. Let’s start with a healthy and open-minded conversation about amalgamation.
October 19, 2016
NOTE: A future QVEA Backgrounder will look at the gap between the vision and the outcomes of the Calling Lakes District Planning Commission (CLDPC).
PHOTO: Qu'Appelle Valley Watershed
Published by Fort Qu’Appelle KAIROS
The Fort Qu’Appelle Kairos hosted the June 22, 2013 community forum “Water Equals Life”. This featured water scientist Dr. Marley Waiser who reported on her research on what Regina’s untreated sewage is doing to Wascana Creek and the Lower Qu’Appelle watershed. Research now shows that nitrites, phosphates, heavy metals and pharmaceuticals all pose a threat to water quality.
The forum brought together over one hundred people from a diversity of community, ecumenical, First Nations, municipal and provincial bodies. It received extensive news coverage in the June 18, 2013 Fort Times and the June 28, 2013 R-Town News.
After the forum Kairos held further public discussions to lay out the changes required to better protect the Qu’Appelle watershed. These discussions first pin-pointed areas of common concern; these are listed on the inside back cover. We then formed a Water Research Group which met over the winter. It posed the important questions that needed to be addressed and divided up the responsibility to get more solidanswers. Its report is now being released to serve the public interest.
Public interest in the water quality of the Calling Lakes continues to grow. The summer 2014 flooding, Regina dumping untreated sewage into the watershed, and beaches being closed due to high E.coli sparked a new level of public concern. Another forum sponsored by the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council and Friends of Katepwa Provincial Park was held August 20, 2014 at the Treaty Four Governance Centre. This was attended by around 200 people, including cottagers from several lakes who are concerned about the state of the watershed. This event received extensive coverage, including in the Regina media.1
It is hoped that our report will be of interest and helpful to the growing body of citizens who want to see the Qu’Appelle watershed
protected and its health restored. We do not pretend to have answered all the questions we have raised, but we believe that all these
questions must be seriously addressed if there is going to be a successful restoration of this watershed. Sept. 2014
Water is life and no matter what watershed we live within we
are obliged to protect water for future generations and for life
itself. Humans everywhere were empowered by the United
Nations 2010 declaration that there is a “human right to safe
and clean drinking water and sanitation”. Water protection
groups are expressing solidarity with the water rights
contained within the UN’s 2007 Declaration on the Rights of
We live within the lower part of the Qu’Appelle watershed,
which includes the Calling Lakes. All indigenous and settler
communities, fishers, farmers and cottagers alike, depend upon
and benefit from the protection of this watershed. The health
of the wildlife depends upon it. There is an urgent need for
a common call to action for this is one of the most stressed
watersheds in all of Saskatchewan.
A major source of the contamination building up in the watershed for decades is Regina’s poorly treated sewage. To enable water quality to begin to improve, so the Calling Lakes don’t become more of a green slime in the summer, the province must require that Regina’s upgraded wastewater treatment system provides full biological nutrient removal and removes additional chemical contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals that threaten the biological health of the watershed. The technology is available and in use elsewhere.
Regina must also immediately upgrade its lagoons and no
longer be allowed to rely on our watershed for dumping
sewage as it did in the summer of 2014. We can no longer
accept that “dilution is the solution to pollution”.
The growing use of fertilizers-chemicals in agri-business can also threaten the health of our watershed. Evidence is mounting that the insecticides called neonics widely used for treating seeds are already building up in our wetlands. These have been banned elsewhere because they are suspect in the rapid decline of bee populations. Without protection of pollination there will be no long-term food security.
Also the ongoing, unregulated destruction of ecologically valuable
wetlands has increased the threat of flooding, as we saw
again in the summer of 2014.
The provincial government and their creation, the Lower Qu’Appelle Watershed Stewards (LQWS), say that we must learn to accept the existing level of degradation in the Calling Lakes. We do not agree; water quality must be restored. Meanwhile the province carries on with its plans to greatly “industrialize” the use of our watershed. Government-commissioned studies project a 200% increase in demand for water in our upper watershed over coming decades, mostly for irrigation and mining. This would lead to three-quarters of the water being used for industrial purposes.
This is unacceptable. There is much uncertainty that the
proposed construction of an Upland Canal from Lake
Diefenbaker to Buffalo Pound would provide a reliable supply
of the quantity and quality of water required for domestic use,
recreation and most vitally, to restore the health of the Calling
Increases in extreme weather, including droughts, and the steady decline in the mountain-glacial flow into our waterway will surely come with climate change. It is highly irresponsible to plan economic growth that depends upon the seemingly perpetual growth in the supply of water.
Water is a non-renewable and a sacred element which requires
our utmost respect. We abuse water at our own peril; water
cannot be treated as just another commodity. Massive amounts
of fresh water will be completely lost through the continued
expansion of solution mining and fracking under the
province’s corporate strategy.
Water protection and preservation therefore need to become our new bottom line. Conservation in Regina contributed to reducing water consumption until 2010. However, the city now loses one in five gallons of the water it brings from Buffalo Pound, and it considers it “uneconomical” to make further improvements in its infrastructure. The view that water has no intrinsic value unless it is used for economic growth is part of an obsolete, unsustainable view of economics.
We are moving towards an inevitable clash between the growing
corporate demands for water and the preservation of the health
of the watershed. The provincial government is already on
record that industry’s “water rights” based on licenses, will
trump human rights and ecological needs when water scarcity
occurs. The province must accept that water is a universal
human right, insist that Regina fully clean up its act and
that agri-business stop contaminating the wetlands and our
Federal and provincial de-regulation of water protection goes hand in hand with the industrializing of water and the threat to our watershed. Inter-provincial agreements need to provide even better oversight and protection. The globally-embarrassing degradation of Lake Winnipeg is the consequence of ongoing abuses all along the waterway, including in the Qu’Appelle watershed. Recreational and agricultural activities in our watershed have to become more ecologically responsible. Any successful ecological restoration will require grass-roots co-operation and governments providing proactive leadership to protect the complete waterway, from Alberta to Manitoba.
Watershed Steward groups can play a positive role if they are aware
of the larger threats and don’t act as a mouthpiece for the province’s
unsustainable policies. However, more independent monitoring,
including of cumulative impacts from all point sources and
tributaries into the Calling Lakes, with full public disclosure,
is urgently required. We must get to the bottom of the large-scale
2014 E. coli contamination to ensure this doesn’t occur again.
The public has a right and responsibility to become better
informed about threats to our watershed. No matter what interest
or identity - whether recreational, indigenous, environmental,
ecumenical and/or scientific - we must now all unite as waterkeepers.
Please join in however you can to protect and restore the
First Nations within the Treaty Four boundaries are greatly
impacted by the water quality in the Qu’Appelle watershed.
These include independent First Nations and First Nations
affiliated with Touchwood Agency Tribal Council, File Hills
Qu’Appelle Tribal Council, Yorkton Tribal Council and First
Nations affected by the waters flowing into Manitoba.
All of us depend upon the streams and rivers that flow
into the Calling Lakes - Pasqua, Echo, Mission, Katepwa,
Crooked and Round Lake, which were left from glacial
melt thousands of years ago. We all depend on this
magnificent watershed for our domestic health, for
agriculture, for recreation and the jobs and services that
water-based, water-dependent activities generate in our
local economies. Yet within just a few generations the
health and biodiversity of this grand watershed has been
denigrated and is now under further threat.
It’s a natural contract: we must take care of the water if the water is going to continue to nurture us. We have to treat water as sacred because water is indeed the wellspring of all life. It is the wellspring of our lives and the quality of life of future generations.
The UN General Assembly’s resolution on water as a Human Right is built upon previous resolutions, declarations, covenants, studies and proclamations. In 2007 the UN adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The Declaration contains forty-six Articles that speak to the responsibility of states to uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples worldwide. Article 25 refers to the right of Indigenous peoples “to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.”
Canada was one of the few countries that initially did not support or sign the Declaration. Among the Harper government’s concerns were references to traditional territories, appropriate redress, the requirements for “free, prior and informed” consent, as well as concerns that Canada would not be in a position to resolve land claims in its favour. Canada finally signed the Declaration with qualifications in 2010. However, its record on the tar-sands, potash, oil and gas exploitation and the environmental deregulation of waterways is what counts.
The ability of First Nations to protect and preserve water as one of the fundamental treaty rights remains in constant jeopardy. Meanwhile the Canadian population at large does not enjoy access to safe water and sanitation as a human right.
Both the federal Harper government and provincial Wall
government continue to treat water as a commodity to be
bought and sold as a resource. Trade agreements like NAFTA
and the coming European CETA agreement do not respect
water as either a human right or sacred element, but rather see
water as another exploitable economic resource. This crass view
will not engender the vision of a sustainable society.
PHOTO: Qu'Appelle River Pelican
Every five years Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency (WSA) is to issue a State of the Watershed Report, which evaluates the condition and health of all watersheds and the human impacts on these. It also proposes water management responses. Impacts on our Lower Qu’Appelle River watershed already make it one of the most stressed and unhealthy in all Saskatchewan.
In its 2010 report the WSA gave a health grade for all watersheds for a large range of stressors. The list of areas where the Lower Qu’Appelle gets a grade of “high intensity” stress is very long: surface water allocation and ground water use, roads, aquatic fragmentation and impact of landfills, livestock and fertilizer inputs, pesticide inputs and contaminated sites. 2
The 2013 report specifically on the Lower Qu’Appelle noted that surface and ground water as well as riparian areas are all “stressed”. The health of the overall watershed is “stressed”. The WSA still claims that our watershed “has no degradation in function or the service it provides”, but this is questionable, for the report admits that our stressed watershed “has lost resistance to change”.3
There is a slow and diminished overall flow as the Calling Lakes continue to accumulate more nutrients and toxins. This means this watershed is already very vulnerable. The “loss of resistance to change” means that the ecological system is no longer self-regulating. We are seeing ever more serious fish die-offs during winter and late summer, more oxygen depletion and more extreme algal and cyanobacterial blooms, all of which harm current high priority uses and the overall enjoyment of the Calling Lakes.
Agencies of the Sask Party government have unfortunately adopted a view that this state of degradation is the new norm which we should accept. In the watershed plan created by the WSA for the government-created NGO, the Lower Qu’Appelle Watershed Stewards (LQWS), the goal set for water quality was only to prevent “a decline in quality from current levels”.4 This is tantamount to accepting the high and sometimes dangerous levels of algae that can choke the Calling Lakes in the hot summer months. Even if stopping further degradation was an acceptable goal, which it is not, the WSA lacks the baseline and ongoing monitoring capacity and the preventative policy tools needed to even accomplish this.
Member groups at the first LQWS AGM rejected
this severely compromised and methodologicallybankrupt
objective and yet the positive changes
proposed by members have not been incorporated
into a revised watershed plan. Also, due to serious
summer flooding the LQWS cancelled its 2014
AGM; the serious flooding and contamination of the
watershed is precisely why that meeting was a high
priority. Clearly the LQWS has to be democratized or
Metal pollutants accumulate in lake sediment and eventually enter aquatic food webs. University of Regina biologist Peter Leavitt’s research suggests that small aquatic invertebrates in the Qu’Appelle system “may have been exposed to damaging levels of toxic metals for 100 years”. This research concluded that “overall, potential toxic metals from urban and industrial sources accumulate significantly within invertebrate diapausing (dormant) eggs, while less toxic metals preferentially accumulate in the sediment matrix”.5 The more toxic metals include cadmium, chromium and molybdenum.
Sediment analysis also suggests that perhaps as much as 70% of the nitrogen pollution in the Qu’Appelle watershed has come from Regina’s pollution. Much phosphorous also comes from agriculture. This elevated influx results in heavy algal blooms which can reach toxic levels. This excessive algal growth depletes oxygen levels in lakes and results in mass die offs of fish and other aquatic organisms.
Pasqua is the first Lake, 175 km downstream from Regina, and is the most heavily affected. In earlier research it was estimated that this fairly shallow lake contained about 300% more algae than in pre-colonial times; currently it’s estimated to be 500% or more. Most nitrogen gets sequestered in lake sediment but nutrients are also passed downstream when saturation occurs, first to Echo, then to Mission and on to Katepwa and the other lakes. This degradation continues on downstream in Manitoba, where Lake Winnipeg has become one of the world’s more polluted fresh water bodies.
At the August 20, 2014 water quality forum at the Treaty Four Governance Centre, Peter Leavitt again aired his warnings about Pasqua Lake, saying “…some of the toxin levels in Pasqua Lake are among the highest that I’ve seen in the country in a survey of about 100 lakes.” 6
Research done on the Lower Qu’Appelle watershed by retired Environment Canada scientist Marley Waiser shows the “widespread presence” of residues from pharmaceutical and personal care products flushed into Regina’s and Moose Jaw’s sewage systems.7 This includes everything from antibiotics to anti-infective hand soaps to birth control drugs. Older sewage treatment plants were not designed to remove these and there is now scientific concern that “chronic exposure of low concentrations” may alter the aquatic food chain. Waiser reports that studies have shown that some hormone-altering contaminants lead to sex changes within fish.
This pollution is spreading and the research site 105 km downstream from Regina has detected contaminants. Waiser notes that you can’t depend on dilution from high water flows to flush the system; sometimes effluent from Regina can be “100% of the flow in Wascana Creek”. She advocates stringent monitoring while noting that there aren’t even water quality objectives for pharmaceuticals. The Regina referendum decision in the fall of 2013 to build a P3 sewage treatment plant not only carries economic risks for the Regina taxpayer, but it may make it more difficult to ensure that high water quality objectives and standards are applied and enforced to restore the ecological health of our watershed.
Based on the WSA’s original plan for our watershed, it may
be acceptable for Regina to just meet minimum standards.
This would be unacceptable, in view of the lengthy period
required to begin to clear the contaminants that have built
up in the Calling Lakes for decades. We must do all we can
to ensure that the province requires maximum protection
from Regina’s wastewater releases.
At present Regina is the only major prairie city without full biological nutrient removal (BNR). The city now appears committed to developing BNR; it’s just not clear that it will fully “turn it on”. Full BNR can remove 95% or more of the nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) as well as organic carbon. It converts nearly all the dissolved N to N2 gas which can be released without harm to the environment. Any process that is proposed because it may seem to initially be cheaper, such as converting poisonous ammonia to slightly less toxic nitrite, must ensure removal of the N by denitrification, a microbial conversion of ammonia to an inert N2 gas.
Wascana Creek is very vulnerable to tiny amounts of these toxins both because it is such a small waterway and because it has an abundance of other nutrients. Overall, Regina’s effluent accounts for 52% of the flow in Wascana Creek and in winter and during droughts this can go as high as 100%. It contributes around 80% of the contaminants found in this waterway.8 As such, current limits for releases (e.g. 1 mg P/L) are inadequate and should be lowered by at least one half or more.
Furthermore, Regina’s new wastewater plant could collect waste products for recycling. Methane gas produced during the process can be harvested to provide more energy efficient power, reduce GHG emissions and also to heat wastewater for more effective microbial treatment. The nutrients collected can be harvested and sold as fertilizer to regional farmers, which in turn could reduce the importation of new nutrients and even help reduce total agricultural runoff. Recycling could also create additional revenue for the City to operate its water treatment system, a practice already used in other cities including Saskatoon which upgraded its wastewater treatment system back in 1991. 9
We need to ask why nearly a quarter of a century later Regina still has not accomplished such an upgrade. The Saskatchewan government must be held accountable and not be allowed to downplay regulations and the federal regulatory process has to be carefully monitored. Negotiations for Regina to sell wastewater to Western Potash or any other company cannot be used to downplay the need to fully upgrade water quality. Nor can any such diversion be allowed to reduce the flow into the Wascana and Lower Qu’Appelle system.
As an incentive to release clean water, some urban
centres in Europe are required to release their wastewater
upstream from their water intake systems. At the very
least the water quality coming out of Regina’s treatment
system should be equal to or better than that coming into
The effectiveness of encouraging agricultural “bestpractices” depends upon this larger strategy and needs to constantly be assessed and improved. For example, is continual cropping really an environmental safeguard, since it can involve more nitrogen and chemical use in an era of relatively cheap oil and gas?
Some farmers may be more sympathetic to helping with effective watershed protection when they realize the overall threat from the increased industrialization of water. However, in large corporate farms water is viewed much the same way as among industrial users. Recent research by University of Saskatchewan scientist Christy Morrissey suggests that industrial agriculture is already a threat to our watershed. She found that wetlands are being contaminated by a line of insecticides called the neonicotinoids or neonics in use since 2000. In 2014 the CBC reported that “virtually all” of the 8.5 million hectares growing canola on the prairies use seeds treated with these neonics. 10 Morrissey conservatively estimates that 44% of prairie crop land was treated with neonics during her study. 11
This could be an ecological disaster waiting to happen. Morrissey found that 80-90% of the wetlands she sampled had concentrations of neonics at least 3 to 4 times, and in peak concentrations of 100 times, what is “deemed habitable” for insects. She found these chemicals were persisting in the environment which could have a domino-effect on the aquatic food chain: a decline in mosquito and midge populations can affect the health of ducks and other bird populations.
The American Bird Conservancy is now calling on the U.S. EPA to ban neonics for seed treatment. They cite the work of Pierre Mineau, past eco-toxicity scientist at Environment Canada, who has written that existing concentrations of the neonics are “high enough to be causing impacts on the aquatic food chain.” Industrial spokesmen for Bayer CropScience and Syngenta are attempting to “green” the neonics, saying there is no hard evidence that there is any bioaccumulation. They also argue that the neonics are a better practice than spraying and that treating seeds can prevent over-spraying. Morrissey rebuts by reminding us that this standardized method contaminates even larger tracks of land that drain into our watersheds.
In 2013 the EU placed a two-year ban on these insecticides because they may be playing a major role in the rapid decline of bee populations. Bees are the real bottom line since without pollination there will be no canola or other food crops, and no fundamental food security. Health Canada has also expressed concern, especially about the use of neonics in Ontario’s corngrowing areas. It has reported that 70% of the dead bee samples in their research had a neonic residue. They are presently doing a scientific re-evaluation of these chemicals. The Lower Qu’Appelle watershed has one of the highest concentrations of canola cropping anywhere. The widespread insecticide contamination across the whole prairies, however, shows that it is not adequate to have separate watershed strategies; there must be an overall, integrated plan.
Even if Regina reduces its contamination of our
watershed, water quality could continue to degrade from
industrial agriculture. We therefore have to work with
any and all groups willing to work in coalition to protect
wetlands and ban chemicals such as the neonics that
threaten aquatic health and water quality.
With ten mines operating, as many as six more proposed and others in the planning process, Saskatchewan is at the centre of the global industry. From extraction to ore handling and from refining to waste disposal the potash industry degrades waterways. It draws down surface and ground water and can lower water tables while degrading water quality.
First Nations issued the warning call as far back as 1998 12 and we should all be listening. Chief Todd Peigan of Pasqua First Nation has noted that if the Western mine near Milestone uses Regina’s waste water, even more water may have to be diverted from Lake Diefenbaker to maintain the existing flow in the Qu’Appelle River. Most proposed new potash mines plan to get water from Buffalo Pound which is in the Upper Qu’Appelle. In March 2012 the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council (FHQTC) held a summit on water and industry where they discussed the proposed new potash mines that would stretch from Moose Jaw to Regina and Melville. The Summit estimated that, excluding some “Mosaic requirements”, existing and proposed potash mines could use over “62 million cubic meters of water annually”. 13
The province is proposing a new channel from Lake Diefenbaker to Buffalo Pound to increase the supply of water. There’s also talk of creating an irrigated agri-business corridor along this channel. But as Chief Peigan continually asks, “where is all this water to come from?”
Industry exploits water on a mammoth scale. According to Statistics Canada, in 2009 manufacturing industries across Canada consumed 355 million cubic meters of water. The amount had risen to 450 million cubic meters by 2011. Forty percent of this was used by the metal industries, which includes potash. The scale of the industrial uses of water can be unimaginable. The expansion of just one Alberta tar-sands project, the Southern Pacific project, will use another 2 million litres of water each day. If you include electrical generation, then coal and nuclear thermal plants would be right at the top of the industrial users of water in Canada. As such, the shift towards renewable energy is part of any water quality preservation strategy. Nearly 80% of the water used in mining comes from freshwater sources and 73% of this is discharged directly back into local watersheds. Overall, 60% of this water is not treated at all before discharge and only 11% goes into tailing ponds. In 2009 the Canadian mining industry spent only $166 million for all the water it takes from natural systems, which is a pittance compared to the huge profits it extracts from natural resources. Almost half of this was for treating effluent while water intake treatment accounted for 11%.
Water acquisition costs were only $ 28 million dollars or 17% of the total. In comparison to other costs, water is almost a free resource for the taking by the mining industry. Industrial profits are being made at the expense of long-term water quality and environmental health.
The WSA’s 25 year plan admits that the “South Saskatchewan
and Qu’Appelle River basins are experiencing the greatest growth
and development related pressure in the Province”. The extraction
of huge volumes of upstream water for industry will impact both
the quantity and quality of water flowing into these basins. Most
of the planned expansion of potash mining will affect the Lower
Qu’Appelle watershed which is already one of the most stressed in
PHOTO: Buffalo Pound Lake
Building pipelines from Lake Diefenbaker to Buffalo Pound, upgrading the existing channel, or building a new canal in or out of the valley have all been considered. An upland canal which would go near Tugaske, Eyebrow, Brownlee and Keeler is recommended in the Clifton report. It is estimated that this 6 to 7-year megaproject would cost $1.2 billion to build and another $4.5 to $11.5 million yearly to operate. Half of these operating costs would be for the energy to operate pumps.
At present the flow in the first 35 km of the Upper Qu’Appelle reaches 14 cubic meters per second (m3/s) but this can go down to 6 m3/s during the dry summer months. The proposed upland canal would hypothetically increase peak flow out of Lake Diefenbaker to 70 m3/s. With the uncertainties of climate change and all the projected industrial uses of this water, it remains highly uncertain what the flow would be by the time it reaches the Lower Qu’Appelle.
The Clifton report argues that without this new “conveyance” system we will face serious “water constraints”. However, it is important to ask who would face these constraints. Clifton refers to an earlier Saskatchewan Watershed Authority (SWA) report which concluded “Increased amount of irrigated area and expansion of the potash sector are the main forces behind the change in water demands”.
While municipal and recreational uses are listed as part of the projected “doubling of water demands…over the fifty years”, the report says that “The main source of water growth are to be found in the growth of irrigated agriculture and the expansion of industry and mining”. It continues, “Municipal water consumption was found to be static over the period in spite of a growing population.” It notes “the effects of municipal pricing in stimulating water conservation”. 14
The report includes projected demands for water by sector. Demand for municipal uses of water in the Qu’Appelle River Watershed would increase by 0% from 2010 to 2060; demand in agriculture, primarily for irrigation, would increase by 219% and in industry and mining it would increase by 172% over this half century.
The projected growth in volume is staggering. Whereas municipal demand would remain around 45,000 cubic decameters (dam3)15, in agriculture it would grow from 65,000 to 206,000 dam3 by 2060. The projected growth for industry and mining would be from 32,000 to 87,000 dam3 by 2060. Municipal uses of water would remain stable while uses for agriculture and industry and mining would grow three-fold. Notice how the term “water growth” comes into the language. But in reality, there is no growth in water, only growth in the availability and use of water. And depending upon the uses, this can degrade water, making even less available for the regeneration of life. And though there is some lip service to the impact of climate change on prairie water, this fifty year scenario is likely closer to industrial fantasy than ecological reality. But it clearly articulates the ambitions of corporations looking for the government to provide them with “water security”. It does not articulate a strategy of sustainability of water quality and quantity, which is what we so urgently require.
The report does, however, try to create a consensus for “water growth”. Section Six on Environmental Implications acknowledges that “Water quality declines throughout the system. In the upper reaches of the Qu’Appelle algae blooms, silting and farm chemicals reduce the purity of the water leaving the lake. When waters are returned from industrial or municipal use there are more chemicals and raw sewage introduced into the Qu’Appelle River, further reducing water quality, increasing algae bloom in the lower lakes and reducing the environmental purity of the rivers creating hazards for fish and wildlife.”
This is all true. But what is their perspective on how to deal
with these problems? They don’t mention the importance of
upgrading Regina’s wastewater treatment. Instead they write:
“The Conveyance will address some of these water quality issues.”
They claim that, “Lake Diefenbaker waters are remarkably pure”,
which is debatable,16 and that “The upland canal route will end
loading of farm chemicals from natural runoff”. It continues,
“Contaminants in the Upper Qu’Appelle from silting, algae and
other sources will no longer be added to the water supply. Waters
to be returned into the Lower Qu’Appelle lakes will have fewer
contaminants and limit downstream algae bloom for all of the
residents and cabin owners throughout the valley”. 17
The Executive Summary makes the goals quite clear by saying, “With higher rates of economic growth and in an era of climate change it has become clear that water security will be a priority for generations to come.” But the fundamental question is how to prevent the worst case scenarios of climate change and still try to adapt to early climate changes in an ecologically and socially sensible way? Or will it be “business as usual” and the denial that goes with this?
The proposals in this report bypass all the fundamental considerations about sustainability and simply assert that the benefits will include “improvements in the investment climate for the area”, which is clearly the bottom line. It then alleges without any serious investigation that there will be “water quality benefits for the Lower Qu’Appelle River and lakes downstream…” In other words the upland canal will simply be good for everything, for “wildlife habitat and recreational benefits” and apparently even for “drought and flood proofing”.
After the primary motivation becomes transparent, this seems like a lot of window dressing. The Executive Summary says “…there is some urgency to resolving the water supply issues. Existing levels of growth are already laying the water demand foundations for water deficits in the region in the next decade”. It continues: “with several billion dollars investment decisions looking for water security it will be important to secure a long term sustainable water supply”. Notice that “sustainability” has been altered from its intended meaning of inter-generational-justice, to mean sustaining profitable economic growth.
The motive is clear. The Introduction says, “Studies of water demands in the region suggest that by 2023 water supplies to the area from existing sources may become a constraint on industrial growth and agricultural value added development”. Earlier the report appealed to “a planet that needs more food and fertilizer to feed a growing population”. It continued, “These are all long projects with substantial water demands”. Then when it discussed the water supply project it comes right to the point, saying “…water demand in the Qu’Appelle Basin…will rise in the future as a result of the expansion of irrigation and potash mining that together could account for three-quarters of the total water use in the basin by 2060”.18 This project would perpetuate a short-term, unsustainable resource export economy that ignores that the rest of the world is presently being challenged to move towards more food selfsufficiency.
Expanding intensive irrigation in a drought-prone region facing the challenges of climate change is not going to resolve these.
If we wish to protect our common watershed we will need
to collectively steward a shift away from ideology premised
upon unsustainable economic growth that largely takes
water for granted, to one that makes a priority out of
sustaining the watershed itself. Water will have to become
the new bottom line.
From 1955 to 2010, water consumption from Buffalo Pound increased nearly ten-fold, from 4,000 to 37,000 megalitres (ML)19. Water purchased by Regina between 1966 and 2012 increased more than three-fold, from 9,000 to 29,000 ML.20The rate of increase started to slow in the late 1980s, partly due to some conservation programs, and the absolute volume used started to decrease in the late nineties. From 1995-99 the use of metered water peaked at 24.4 million cubic meters (MCM). It continued to drop until 2010, when it was 21.1 MCMs. However, in 2011 it went back up to 22.1 MCM and the projected total for 2013 was again up, at 23.1 MCM. Conservation measures to reduce the waste of precious water seem to have stalled. In 2006 Regina began to use the Infrastructure Leakage Index (ILI). The percentage of water unaccounted for is calculated by subtracting the amount billed to ratepayers from the amount purchased from Buffalo Pound. From 2007 to 2011 this continued to rise, from 16.8% to 18.25%.
This means Regina is close to wasting one gallon in every five gallons that it takes out of the watershed. In its Water and Sewer Utility Budget for 2013 the City admits “there is potential for marked improvements” but it adds “that further water loss reduction, although possible, may be uneconomical”. 21
The way Regina prices water shows disregard for the water itself. The water rate in 2013 was set at $225 for one million litres. Compare this to the $1.50 it costs for one bottle of water. The 4% increase over 2012 was reported as being due to the rising costs of electricity, chemicals, equipment and labour. The water itself is not mentioned and there is no intrinsic value placed on the watershed itself. The cost for the actual water from Buffalo Pound was only $6.4 million, a pittance of the overall utility costs of the City. 22
When the growing costs of supplying water are discussed the impression is sometimes left that this is due to the growth in residential sub-divisions. In other words these costs are the result of more people building homes in the city. Yet in 2013 nearly one-third or 7.1 MCM of the billable water was used for non-residential purposes. Commercial and industrial uses of water are a significant part of Regina’s growing water demand. Regina is still using an old-world view of the “economics of water”. Its approach ignores the coming challenges and costs of providing safe water through a reliable, conserving infrastructure. The City finally admits that its continued use of chlorination for disinfection creates toxic by-products that “are dangerous to human health”. 23 Their Long Term Water Utility Plan even recommends the increased use of ultraviolet light disinfection, something Saskatoon expanded years ago. It then admits that the need to control serious taste and odour problems with these toxic chemicals is on the increase.
This 2013 report also admits that Regina’s “wastewater lagoons are overloaded and under review”.24 So we now know that Regina knew its lagoons were problematic long before it dumped untreated sewage into the Wascana Creek and Lower Qu’Appelle during the 2014 summer flooding. How does the capital city get away with this?
The City report also says that the treated water is corrosive and leading to “slow deterioration of piping and fitting” as well as concrete tanks, though they displace this problem onto future generations saying it is not of “immediate concern”. Meanwhile there is evidence that full biological nutrient removal (BNR) can reduce the wear and repair costs of wastewater treatment technology. Finally they admit that the nine wells in and around the City that act as backup to the Buffalo Pound source are “less than the City’s typical needs” and that this water has levels of iron, magnesium and hardness that don’t meet what they call their “aesthetic objectives”.
Regina’s contributions of 10% of its general water charges to a Capital Replacement Fund are likely to be sorrowfully below the requirements to address all these challenges. We have already seen the rising costs resulting from Regina procrastinating for nearly a quarter of a century with its wastewater treatment upgrade. Had it been planned for when the need was first discussed in the mid-1990s, the costs to the taxpayer would have been many factors less.
The spending needed to reduce water waste and water demand
and to upgrade water quality, safety and the viability of the
infrastructure is considered “uneconomic”. Yet, according to
the Annual Report of the Buffalo Pound Administration Board,
the South Central Enterprise Region in consultation with the WSA is devising a very expensive “plan for a flow rate of up to
25 cubic meters per second in the Upper Qu’Appelle River; more
than three times the volume the current channel can presently
Climate change is already affecting our watershed and it will do so more severely in the future.
Studies of glaciers on the eastern slopes of the Rockies estimate that even if the climate were to somehow stabilize, from 31 % to 46 % of current glacier volume will be lost by 2100. A more realistic forecast of continuing global warming suggests that glacier volumes will decline 79% to 89% by then. 26
Between 1985 and 2005 the eastern slopes of the Rockies had a glacial loss exceeding 20%. The Bow and Red Deer River basins are major sources for the South Saskatchewan River. By 2100 the estimated losses of the current ice volumes that feed these basins will be 66% and 71%, respectively. “These impacts on the river systems will be concentrated in late summer”, after melting and runoff of seasonal snow which contributes the bulk of the discharge in the early summer.
Will this dynamic affect water quality and quantity in the Lower Qu’Appelle? To understand the effects of retreating glaciers on our watershed, we need to better understand how glaciers work. The bulk of the research uses methods that are not the most accurate; ground and aerial radar ice thickness mapping would give us more accurate results.
How can governments and industry make accurate projections of future water availability without more accurate assessments of future supply? And will this research be undertaken with the Harper government’s hostility towards science and evidence-based policies?
There are significant reductions in snowfall in the eastern slopes of the Rockies compared with those on the B.C. side. Alberta WaterPortal reports that “The precipitation gradient in the eastern slopes is dramatic”, ranging between 2002-2009 from 1900 mm at Haig glacier, to 430 mm over this period in Calgary. It adds that we tend to think that, “…runoff from the seasonal snow pack on glaciers is presumably ‘renewable’ - it will continue to feed the rivers even if the glaciers disappear. However, with the loss of glacier ice this snowpack contribution may also decline, as glaciers act as snow traps that encourage snow accumulation.” 27
It continues that, “…the cold environment on glaciers also preserves much of this snow until later in the summer melt season, while routing through the glacier can introduce delays of weeks to months in delivering of melt-water to the rivers, particularly in the early summer. Glacier retreat is therefore expected to result in earlier melting and runoff of seasonal snow from sites that are presently glaciated.”
“Glacier runoff is proportional to available melt energy, whereas runoff in non-glaciered catchments is governed by precipitation. This means that discharge from glaciered catchments is less sensitive to weather fluctuations, with a supply of runoff in periods of drought that is lacking in other non-glaciered catchments.”
“Glacier inputs to the Bow River at Banff can exceed 50% in the late summer of a dry year, although glacier melt constitutes only 2% of the average annual. Annual discharge statistics therefore mask the importance of glacier contributions to stream flow. In most summers in the Canadian Rockies, seasonal snow persists until July at low elevations on the glaciers, and until August at higher elevations. There is little seasonal snow remaining elsewhere in the mountains at this time. Once this snow cover is removed, glacier runoff is dominated by melt from the low-albedo glacier ice. 28. In summers of drought, groundwater recharge and ice melt are the sole sources of sustenance for mountain streams. ”With sustained glacier retreat, “long term water storage is being tapped to augment the runoff derived from rainfall and seasonal snow. This means that current and future runoff is likely to be less than mean historical runoff.”
The Saskatchewan River has seen its flow drop by 12% in the last century. Once it enters Saskatchewan, it receives only a 2% increase in volume in its journey through our province. Despite our relatively low population, existing demands consume about one third of its historically decreasing flow. With human induced climate change expected to hit hard in the Palliser Triangle, the semi-arid region in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, we can expect huge challenges.
One major challenge is undertaking accurate glacier volume research. Another is the lack of coordination between the many government, academic and stewardship agencies at federal, provincial and municipal levels. 29
The Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborativeor (PARC) has published findings about climate change impacts on the prairies, which have implications for the Qu’watershed. PARC’s Norm Henderson writes that, “Reduced winter snowfall in the latter half of the 20th century contributed to the observed trend of declining stream flows…Winter warming will reduce snow accumulation in alpine areas and across the prairies.” This is already a critical issue for many rivers including the Bow and Oldman Rivers which both feed into the South Saskatchewan River. “This will cause declines in annual streamflow and a shift in streamflow timing to earlier in the year, resulting in lower summer water supplies...Continued glacier retreat will exacerbate water shortages already apparent… during drought years. Drier soils result in decreased subsurface recharge, which will lead to a decline in the water table in many regions.” 30
PARC’s summary report continues, “In the Alberta Rockies, an increased frequency of landslides, debris flows, rock avalanches and outburst floods is probable… Current and projected trends… include increased rainfall, especially in winter, rapid snowmelt and shrinking glaciers… and decay of permafrost… at higher elevations.”
Henderson continues that, “…in agricultural areas, droughts could result in enhanced soil erosion and increased sand dune activity. Slopes and stream channels exposed to less frequent but more intense rainfall will also be more vulnerable to increased erosion and shallow slope failures. Erosion will increase stream sediment and the nutrient loads in local water systems could lead to eutrophication of water bodies and increased pathogen loadings in streams, especially during the summer…the joint effects of climate change and nutrient over-enrichment (are seen) as the major threat to agro-ecosystems. Phosphorus and nitrogen …impinge water quality and encourage eutrophication when run-off events move these nutrients into waterbodies.”
Models have shown that with climate change there will be a northern shift of plant species. Henderson writes that, “… drought conditions can weaken trees’ defenses to more virulent pathogens”. In the parklands “there will be the shrinking of aspen groves and decreasing shrub cover.” Could these changes and stresses limit the ability of plant species in the Qu’Appelle Valley to withstand the growing likelihood of erosion and fire? Henderson continues that, “aquatic eco-systems will be stressed by warmer and drier conditions. A large number of prairie aquatic species are at risk of extirpation. Many fish species and amphibians are sensitive to small changes in temperature, turbidity, salinity or oxygen levels. ..Larger algal blooms accelerate lake eutrophication...”
Most compelling, PARC’s research notes that “Drought can increase concentrations of pathogens and toxins in domestic water supplies.” Increasing water scarcity and water supply variability will also affect industries that want more access to more water, such as all the projected potash mines. Henderson continues, “Outbreaks of waterborne disease have been linked to intense precipitation, flooding and runoff from agricultural livestock areas.” Do we even know what happened in this regard after the 2011 flooding? We are already facing the convergence, as beaches throughout the Calling Lakes had to be closed due to elevated E.coli in the aftermath of the 2014 summer flood.
It is vital to know “…when, within the year, extra heat and water will be available… Most of the warming is occurring in the winter…most of the extra precipitation is expected in the winter and spring and increasingly in the form of rain as the climate warms. Scenarios of summer precipitation are less consistent but many include decreased summer precipitation falling in fewer and more intense storms.” Meanwhile “…the mid to later stages of longer, warmer summers will tend to be drier, possibly much drier.”
The conclusion is that “There is a huge gap in our understanding of the extent to which existing management practices and public policies either encourage or discourage the implementation of adaptive strategies. There is also a need to determine the relative importance of adaptive responses versus other priorities, and to develop approaches that incorporate climate change considerations into existing policy instruments.”
We do not see much evidence-based foresight in
Saskatchewan’s plans to industrialize the use of water.
Now is the time to build back capacities for policy research
and planning that have been squandered or downplayed
in today’s cavalier obsession with growth and unfettered
Yet, even without the effects of climate change our human right to safe, clean, affordable water is under threat. On the cusp of tremendous industrial mining expansion, our provincial government is treating water as an industrial property right. Are they perhaps preparing us for water scarcity in the name of corporate-driven economic growth?
In April 2013 the Environment Minister was asked by members of the Calling Lakes District Planning Commission “how will priorities be established in drought years?” His answer: “Licensed users will be accorded first priority to water”. He added: “However, municipal or community uses and the water needed to maintain the ecology of the river system are also considered…” But he ended: “During extreme drought years, lakes within the Qu’Appelle basin will fall below their desirable operating ranges for recreation.” 31
Sustainable development means that water quality and eco-system health can no longer be traded off for short term economic benefits. It means we must start to take the limits of growth to heart if we ever expect to restore and protect our watershed.
Industrial self-regulation resulting from deregulation and offloading goes hand in hand with the shift towards treating water as a commodity. The Harper government’s 2012 Omnibus Bill has already removed much federal oversight from our watershed. And the province is not providing the resources required to make up for the shortfall.
The Saskatchewan government created the Water Security Agency in 2010 primarily to oversee and implement its policy of greatly expanding the use of water as a commodity. This agency has the unenviable task of trying to balance the uses of water for industry, agriculture, recreation and domestic purposes, while paying some attention to protecting biodiversity and eco-system health. But can this be done? The numbers simply don’t add up. Nor do the policies and resources being provided.
The WSA is being promoted as a one-stop public agency to address concerns about water, but there continues to be split jurisdiction over water quality (e.g. Sask Water, Environment and Health). This can be confusing and leave cracks where there can be little or no coordination or integrated oversight.
Regina released untreated sewage and there was unprecedented additional agricultural and other runoff into the Lower Qu’Appelle during the flooding in summer 2014. Beaches had to be closed due to elevated E.coli. All the jurisdictions dealing with water should have been getting together to integrate their information as a basis for heightened public awareness and evidence-based water policy. But the coordination across these ministries seemed to have more to do with managing “spin”. 32
Outright deregulation is adding to the reduction of oversight.
The federal role in protecting eco-systems and fish habitats
has been steadily declining under the Harper government.
It’s debatable how much regulation actually occurs, for water quality objectives act more as guidelines than regulations.
Oversight with enforcement doesn’t occur except in blatant
cases and usually after the fact, which won’t encourage a
proactive approach to watershed protection. Nor does it
encourage public awareness about the kinds and levels of
ongoing contamination. We must ensure that this practice of
“out of sight, out of mind” self-regulation does not become the
new norm for Saskatchewan!
The inter-provincial prairie flow of water received some attention, especially after 1948. In 1969 the Master Agreement on Apportionment (MAA) was negotiated and in 1992 this was amended to include water quality. Recently the Canadian Council Of Ministers on the Environment also adopted a “multibarrier approach” which highlights protecting lakes, rivers and aquifers which are the source of our drinking water. This declaration of support for a more integrated, preventative approach is encouraging.
In contrast, the Saskatchewan government is presently taking a very different stance, attempting to normalize the present level of degradation in the Lower Qu’Appelle watershed and get on with quick expansion of the resource industry. They are not treating water as a human right and an ecological need. For them “water rights” has come to mean the property rights of industries who obtain water licenses.
And local politicians aren’t necessarily encouraging water quality protection. In his defense of a P3 waste water treatment plant, Regina’s mayor Fougere went completely against the good sense of the Council of Ministers, trying to separate and isolate the quality of drinking water from the adequacy of waste water treatment. He wouldn’t be able to do this if Regina’s poorly treated water was released upstream from the City. It’s ultimately all interconnected and it must all be protected.
How much can the public who cares for watershed protection count on inter-provincial oversight? The MAA is overseen by the Prairie Provinces Water Board (PPWB). According to Schedule E in the 1992 agreement the PPWB is to monitor the aquatic environment, issue reports on water quality, promote comparable quality objectives across the prairies and promote a preventive and proactive eco-systems approach that recognizes the interdependence of water quantity and quality. This is something that Regina and Saskatchewan politicians have largely ignored.
The PPWB can even propose measures to maintain water quality “…if the assessment of the impact of a proposed development indicates that water quality has been or may be significantly altered…” Surely these conditions apply to the already degraded Lower Qu’Appelle. But will federal and provincial policies wedded to unrealistic views of water supply encourage such a proactive approach? And how much does the public even know about these elusive protections?
Can we count on these wise objectives to protect our watershed? The PPWB has two federal members and one from each prairie province. All its recommendations, bylaws and budgets require unanimous approval, which means each party (the federal government and each province) has a veto. So the Harper government or the Saskatchewan Party government can stop any effective action if they think it will slow down their resource extraction agenda. Further, Environment Canada does the monitoring and the Harper government has already meddled in their affairs by shifting some monitoring resources to the higher profile tar sands projects.
Integrated science may be on the side of protecting ecosystems.
But before we can count on the PPWB to lead the way, we will need more politicians and governments that make decisions based on evidence. And the PPWB will likely become even more vulnerable if the Harper Conservatives are re-elected in 2015.
The planned reduction in Regina sewage nutrient releases can be expected to produce some level of improvement, certainly to Wascana Creek and perhaps even to the Calling Lakes. It is therefore not clear why the Lower Qu’Appelle River Watershed Plan did not refer to the potential for such improvements at the time the Lower Plan was announced in July 2013. Were they perhaps covering their bases?
One difficulty with setting any targets for the Calling Lakes in the Lower Qu’Appelle Plan, beyond Regina reducing its nutrients, is that there is inadequate knowledge on which to base any such objectives. Non-point nutrient sources have not been adequately measured through the monitoring of flow and concentrations coming from the major tributaries. These carry runoff from cropping, grazing and winter feeding, cottages, roads and other rural land uses throughout the watershed. WSA recently initiated a program intended to measure water flows and nutrient levels over at least two years, which includes the spring 2013 high snowmelt and the following lower runoff year. This is to be done at seventeen main stem and eleven tributary sites distributed over the entire basin. This information could provide nutrient loading estimates that could then be used to more precisely model the effects of both non-point and the Regina and Moose Jaw point sources on river and lake environments. This data could also begin to provide an independent basis for evaluating various strategies for improving lake water quality. But this research must be fully transparent and relevant to restoring the watershed.
Collection of this information is critical to assessing the sitespecific and cumulative effects of any new projects such as approved or proposed potash operations. But effective foresight and preventative management of cumulative effects requires more than monitoring. These research results can be used to rank pollutant sources and water users, to focus reduction measures on the greatest contributors to degraded water quality, and to prepare a management plan that identifies these measures and sets implementation schedules. Government policies, including pollution and water allocation management legislation, however, must support these measures. At present this is not the case.
There has to be regulatory and non-regulatory actions, such as education, financial incentives and the use of permits. Most vital, government assessment requirements have to include procedures for evaluating the cumulative effects of new impact sources; planning processes for any new development must be tested and amended to attain watershed protection and restoration management objectives. And there has to be interjurisdictional collaboration.33
It seems clear that much work by local governments and mobilization by non-governmental groups remains to be done before there will be any public confidence that further deterioration can be prevented and real improvements can follow. But we must get on with it.
This does not yet seem to be what the government wants. After its formation in 2012 the WSA absorbed the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority. Since then the WSA has been creating Watershed Steward groups to work with it to achieve the Saskatchewan government’s mainly industrial goals. In March 2013 it established the Lower Qu’Appelle Watershed Stewards. The plan it created for the community-based group to implement is seriously lacking. It concentrates on education, enhanced best-practices and self-regulation among farmers and individuals regarding their waste management, but it has hardly any plans or processes to address industrial uses of water, which will be among the biggest factors shaping our future water quantity and quality. It encourages volunteers to clean up debris along rivers and streams while industrial groups are laying plans to exploit the overall waterways. It gives little attention to protected areas including wetlands that have a huge function in sustaining and restoring watershed health.
Its approach boxes us in with a simplistic and poorly conceived “interest based model” that avoids facing some of the underlying conflicts of interest. It places the priority on the greatest set of interests, by which it surely means industrial uses of water. 34 This can take attention away from the whole watershed, which must be understood and approached from an integrated, ecological perspective.
For an integrated plan to develop there must be open access and sharing of information, including relevant federal research, among all stakeholders. We can’t have community-based groups expected to help protect their watershed while private information sharing and wateruse planning is occurring behind closed doors between industry and government. Both First Nations and settler environmental interests must be at the table. There must be transparency and true collaboration to effectively restore and protect our watershed.
Water in Saskatchewan needs to be respected as a human
right and a sacred source of all life. We will need more
than government-animated “community oversight” or
veto-restricted inter-provincial bodies to achieve this
goal. Indigenous and settler communities, ecumenical and
environmental groups, scientists and local governments will
need to become ever-more engaged with each other to meet the
common challenge. And this will have to take a long overdue
leap into ever-more respectful, post-colonial relationships
among communities. Perhaps it is time to consider a more
independent waterkeepers organization35 to fully and honestly
monitor, advocate for and protect our watershed for ourselves
and future generations.
Major SourcesUN General Assembly, Human Rights Council, 24th Session, A/HRC/RES/24/18.
1. This historical resolution 64/292 was passed on July 28, 2010.
2. State of the Watershed Report, 2010, pp. 32-36. 3. Lower Qu’Appelle River Watershed Plan, Water Security Agency, March 2013, p. 9.
4. Lower Qu’Appelle River Watershed Plan, p. 20
5. See B. Wyn et al, Historical Metal Concentrations In Lacustrine Food Webs Revealed Using Fossil Ephippia From Daphnia, Ecological Applications, 17(3), 2007, pp. 754-764; also see P.R. Leavitt et al, in Limnology and Oceanography, Volume 51, No. 5 (September 2006, pp. 2262-2277).
6. Breanne Massey, “Group Wants Solutions to Water Issues, Fort Times, August 29, 2014, p. 1.
7. Much of this information is taken from Waiser’s presentation to the community forum in Fort Qu’Appelle on June 22, 2013.
8. These figures have been double-checked with the WSA.
9. Saskatoon’s Nutrient Recovery Facility not only produces from 240 to 350 tonnes of fertilizer a year but this process also prevents damage and repair costs to the plant.
10. Pesticides Contaminating Prairie Wetlands, CBC News, Jan. 8, 2014.
11. One ongoing project is “Distribution and Impact of Neonicotinoid insecticides on wetland ecosystems of Prairie Canada”. More information at: Christy.email@example.com
12. This occurred when the Qu’Appelle Valley Indian Development Authority (QVIDA) was in existence.
13. FHQTC Summit on water, March 2012.
14. Clifton Associates, Upper Qu’Appelle Water Supply Project, 2012, p. 47.
15. A decameter is equal to 1,000 cubic meters (1,000m3).
16. This is disputed by researchers at the U of S’s Global Institute for Water Security who say there are large amounts of phosphorous coming into Lake Diefenbaker all the way from Alberta.
17. Clifton, op. cit., p. 53. The matter of the level of evaporation along the concrete conveyance and its deterioration are ignored.
18. Ibid., p. 6
19. A megalitre (ML) is equal to a million litres.
20. See Buffalo Pound Water Administration Board, Annual Report, 2012, p. 13.
21. Water and Sewer Utility Budget, City of Regina, 2013, p, 32. Other quotes in this sub-section are from pp. 29-33 of this report.
22. The City reports that this is only 13% of the total costs for utilities, excluding “debt and transfer to the General Operating Fund”. Ibid., p. 29.
23. Trihalomethanes (THM’s) are byproducts of algae and chlorine. Guidelines were established in 1993 and since then epidemiological research has found more associations with “bladder and colon cancer and adverse pregnancy outcomes.”
24. Ibid., p. 29.
25. Buffalo Pound Water Administration Board, p. 16.
26. See Alberta WaterPortal, Learn Glaciers: Alberta Glacier Inventory and Ice Volume Estimation.
27. Ibid., Introduction: Glaciers.
28. Albedo refers to the reflectivity of a substance.
29. This is paraphrased from Allan Casey, The South Saskatchewan River Runs Dry, Canadian Geographic, Oct. 2010.
30. Norm Henderson, Recent and Current Change Impacts and Adaption Research at PARC, Climate Impacts and Adaption Science, 2010, p. 174. Further quotes in this section are from pp. 175-185.
31. Letter from Minister Cheveldayoff to Calling Lakes District Planning Commission, April 5, 2013.
32. See Jim Harding, What Are We Going To Do To Protect The Water?, R-Town News, Aug. 27, 2014, p. 3.
33. Regina should continue to be encouraged to be proactive and participate in the Cumulative Impacts Assessment that came out of the Standing Buffalo First Nations court case on water.
34. Lower Qu’Appelle River Watershed Plan, p. 33.
35. The Waterkeeper Alliance, based in New York, started in 1999.
There are now over 200 waterkeeper groups around the world,
including Waterkeepers Canada at: waterkeepers.ca
Several people have contributed to the discussions, research,
writing and publication of this public report. We especially
want to acknowledge Terrina Bellegarde, Sharron and Randy
Bodnaryk, Mike Bray, Phillip Brass, Greg Chatterson, Alison
DuBois, Lorna Evans, Theresa Feist, Jim Harding, Murray
Krug, Randy Lebell, Terri Sleeva, Janet Stoody and Dave
Sutherland. We would also like to acknowledge the scientists,
especially Peter Leavitt and Marley Waiser, who have done
important studies about impacts on our watershed; First
Nations activists such as Pasqua Chief Todd Peigan and
others within the FHQTC who have been giving ongoing
leadership on the threats to this watershed; to Idle No More
for bringing new focus and urgency to the protection of water;
and the important work of the Calling Lakes District Planning
Commission and its chair Ken Hutchinson for its role in bringing
more mainstream attention to the regional water crisis. Finally,
we wish to thank Hazel and Gordon Jardine for keeping the
local Kairos alive for so many years.
By Jim Harding
In late February 2018 I was invited to present to a Grade 11 Environmental Education class at Bert Fox Community High School in Fort Qu’Appelle, SK. The teacher of the class was Ms. Tina Bowley. I am a retired professor of environmental and justice studies and was invited to speak as a director of the two-year-old Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA). I was joined by another local QVEA Director, Lorna Evans.
I emphasized two main topics:
1) a general overview of the climate crisis, and
2) related environmental issues facing us in the Qu’Appelle Valley Watershed. At the end I distributed file cards to enable students to provide some anonymous feedback.
I discussed #1 and 2 for about half of the class. Then we had a Q and A. The students had been asked to look at the qvea.ca website and to prepare questions which the teacher presented on their behalf. Their questions were:
- What kinds of things are on the QVEA’s agenda in the upcoming years?
- With open pit gravel mining what are some effects that could have against the ecosystem?
- What is one thing everyone could do to help the environment?
- What made you choose this career?
- What is the biggest challenge in trying to help the environment?
- Why does the water always seem so green?
- What does the future look like for our lakes within the area?
These were intriguing and compelling questions, which I answered as best I could. An additional question was about whether chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides) were needed to meet the growing global needs for food. Another was about the environmental issues right in Fort Qu’Appelle. I noted that most food was still grown by small-scale or peasant farmers and that chemical-industrial farming was constantly being re-evaluated in terms of sustainability, i.e. preserving soil health, water quality and conservation. I also briefly outlined our local March Protection Campaign. (See qvea.ca).
Then I asked the students to fill out the card: first to write down the two environmental issues which were of most concern; and then, on the other side of the card, to put down any solutions they could think of.
I got 23 cards back, which was from most of the students in attendance. There was a wide variety in how students answered. Some answers were very general, some highly specific: everything from waste management to polar bears. Some wrote out their answers in more detail, while others simply wrote down points. Most of the “points” related in some way to my presentation, which is what you would expect. This is a good sign that students were listening and processing the information presented. It seems that the issues raised resonated with the students and that there is lots of room for educational follow-up to their concerns.
I listed all the answers, separating the first from the second environmental concern. Seven (7) of the 23 students listed “global warming” as their #1 concern. If you add “carbon” and “atmosphere” in, this comes to 9 students. One student also listed “our ozone layer” as their main concern. Three (3) students listed “climate”, “fossil fuels” or “CO2” as their #2 concern.
Climate Change: In total, therefore, 13 of the 23 students, directly or indirectly listed “global warming or climate change” as a major environmental concern. This is likely due to a combination of influences: everything from my presentation being fresh in their memories, to them already having this concern before I came.
Water and Waste: The second most mentioned environmental concern was “water”. Water or “drinking water” was mentioned three times as the #1, and five times as the #2 environmental concern, so 8 of 23 of the students indicated that “water” was a major concern. “Waste” was the next most mentioned environmental concern. The term “waste” or specific waste issues (plastics, radioactive waste) were listed four (4) times as the #1 environmental concern. Another four (4) students listed waste issues (including Regina sewage, plastics or glass) as their #2 environmental concern. So, 8 of 23 students listed waste-related issues as major environmental concerns. I have ranked this lower than “water” because I had to group a wide range of waste-related issues into this category. Also, as we’ll see below, water-related issues were even more vital to these high school students than first indicated.
More About Water: The next most mentioned environmental concern had to do with water bodies, everything from lakes to lake flooding, to arctic melting and ocean health. Quill Lakes’ flooding was mentioned as the #1 concern by one student, as was contamination of our valley lakes. The Husky oil spill in the North SK River, polar ice melting, contamination of the Artic from our watershed and “ocean life” were all mentioned as a #2 concern. If you add these concerns in with those directly about “water”, you have a total of 14 of the 23 students expressing concern about watersheds, oceans, etc. which is greater than the 13 who mentioned the climate crisis.
This provides a great opportunity for follow-up education, to discuss how the climate crisis and the water crisis are so interrelated.
Concern About Habitats: A variety of terms can legitimately be used to highlight interrelated environmental issues and concerns. Two (2) students mentioned “extinction” as their #2 concern. One said “I’m scared all the animals will go extinct”. Another listed “animals/insects – extinction”, which could relate to what I said about the “neonic” pesticides threatening bees. Another listed “polar bears”, though not specifically mentioning extinction. It was clear that the erosion of habitats was the underlying concern.
There were some students who expressed their environmental concerns in very informative general terms. One simply listed as their #1 concern, “how the environment will turn out in 5 years” This was likely related to the climate crisis, as their #2 concern was about “the climate, how (much) worse will it get?” Another asked, as their #1 concern, “will we ever create a healthy way to live?” This student was also concerned about the climate crisis because they listed “fossil fuels” as their #2 concern.
Awareness and Neglect: Another student expressed their concern as “awareness”, explaining, “there are a lot of people who aren’t aware of the problems that are happening on our planet”. Their #2 concern was “negligence”, explaining, “There are also lots of people who know the bad things that are happening and they just don’t care about it.” This could lead to a very worthwhile classroom discussion, including about trust in the future.
There were other students who mentioned highly specific concerns. One listed “smoking” as their #1 concern; their #2 concern was “CO2 needs to go down”. Another listed “parks and campgrounds being dirty” as their #2 concern; their #1 concern was “our lakes being dirty and contaminated.” These show the unique ways that students can express themselves. It would be interesting to explore what lies behind these combinations. There is a lot of room for environmental education that links specific and general environmental issues.
Thirteen (13) of the 23 students wrote some solutions on the back of their file card. Most of them relate directly or indirectly to climate change (6) or to what is being done to water (4). Driving and travelling less, moving to electric cars, banning fossil fuels are all mentioned. One conscientious student listed“travel less, use less fuel, don’t waste energy, walk around (if possible), carpool, don’t litter.”Another said “switch to hydrogen or electric-powered cars, use less oil/plastics/everything made of fossil fuels. Use solar panels.” This student added, regarding population growth, “People should look at adoption before deciding to (have) their own kids.”
Regarding endangered polar bears, one student said “create a man-made habitat the polar bears can be safe in until their natural habitat is clear of the risks of driving them extinct.” This shows a sense of responsibility, while making a lot of ecological assumptions that could be discussed in class. While it is possible to use zoos or create animal sanctuaries or ecological reserves to try to protect endangered species, this will not compensate for the ongoing loss of habitat. Protecting biodiversity through reducing negative global economic impacts upon climate is urgently needed.
This could open up discussion about United Nations’ Conventions that relate to protecting the environment. And how Canada and Saskatchewan are falling behind in terms of creating Protected Spaces and changing energy, agricultural and urban policies and practices which endanger climate stability, watershed protection and habitat biodiversity. There could be an informative discussion about the threats to Prairie Grassland habitats and species.
Some solutions (4) related to concerns about water. This included “changing the ways…we treat our
water”, not throwing “away plastics in the water”, and banning “Regina…people from wrecking the water system.” Regina has frequently been in the news in recent years due to its sewage releases
into the Qu’Appelle River. One student felt a marina could be a good thing saying “if there (are) more people (spending time on the water) there is more motivation to keep our water clean.” In answering
one of the students’ questions I had pointed out that the province had recently withdrawn an offer to sell 19 acres to a U.S. company to build a marina because this land was in the flood plain and should be
zoned an “environmental reserve”. This could lead to a classroom discussion about the role of marshes as habitats, in cleaning lake water, and the importance of “ecology” in land use zoning and planning; all vital topics for environmental education.
i) The student responses indicate that, overall, these Grade 11 students were willing and able to discuss the main issues and points raised. And they did this in their own terms. The diversity of answers is a very good starting point to broaden one’s knowledge and understanding of these issues, and to be able to better link them.
ii) The concerns were expressed in a wide variety of ways. Students were able to go into different aspects of the issues and points. They could clearly learn a lot more from each other, if they had the chance to articulate their different perspectives. Learning and change can always come with deep conversations and sharing.
iii) It is understandable that all students were not comfortable proposing “solutions”. It is probably best to ensure that basic comprehension exists prior to proposing or embracing solutions. At the same time, it is good for students to start thinking about what needs to change and why. There were a lot of insightful comments made about solutions which provide a good starting point for further environmental education.
iv) There seems to be a fair amount of general and specific knowledge among these Grade 11 students, upon which more environmental education can be built. Excellent classroom discussion topics could be created out of the students’ responses.
v) It would be worth sharing this overview with the students so they can see what others in their class wrote. This could evoke more in-depth discussion about many of the major concerns. It would be worth exploring what students have been thinking about environmental issues before the class, or since the class, and whether and how their views may have changed.
vi) Sharing these findings is also a chance for students to learn more about research methods. Fact sheets could even be developed as part of a classroom project.
vii) It is always interesting to find out if, and in what ways, students are rethinking their futures, including their academic and/or vocational plans.
I hope this is of interest. I found this all very informative and encouraging and would be willing to follow-up at some future point.
Jim Harding, QVEA Director
Brief to Town of Fort Qu’Appelle
(Sept. 12, 2019)
From QVEA - Based on resolution passed at QVEA AGM, June 15, 2019
Fort Qu’Appelle is a lush river and lake valley community. We are blessed with abundant natural beauty; the hills, the lakes, river and marshes, and the web of plant, insect and animal life that enriches us all.
The Qu’Appelle watershed, with its lakes, rivers and creeks, however, is now at risk and needs our abiding attention. Action is urgently needed to help protect and preserve what we all depend upon and cherish.
The biodiversity of the surrounding prairie grasslands is in steady decline. We live in one of the extreme water crisis areas in the world, along with such places as the S.E. USA, parts of Australia, the Middle East and North Africa. Extreme weather events, the flooding, drought and wildfires that are the early signs of global warming, are already upon us, and these will continue to undermine prairie, grassland and watershed biodiversity. Most compelling, the temperature on the prairies is rising faster than elsewhere.
All levels of government are obliged to provide immediate legislative and regulatory leadership to reduce carbon and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) responsible for global warming. Carbon emissions in SK are the highest (per capita) in all of Canada, and amongst the highest on the planet. (Around 70 metric tonnes per person compared to 20 for Canada and 4 as a global average.) While other areas in Canada, notably Ontario, Quebec and BC, have lowered emissions since 2005, ours have continued to rise. Our extremely high emissions, along with those in Alberta, are now almost equal to total emissions from all the rest of Canada. This steady rise in our emissions will likely become responsible for Canadians not being able to meet our collective emission reduction target under the Paris Agreement.
All governments need to take immediate action to reduce agricultural chemicals and other toxins from flowing into our creeks, rivers, wetlands, marshes and lakes. We need immediate action to protect wetlands, shelterbelts and bushland and to stop unecological agricultural drainage and wetland destruction practices that are clearly out of control, and which will exacerbate flooding, toxic runoff and drought conditions that will increase with global warming. Quill Lakes flooding is one visible sign of this dangerous new reality.
Municipalities have a vital role in this transformation to sustainability. Many Canadian municipalities have already made commitments to act responsibly to reverse these unsustainable directions and avert more catastrophic events. There are several actions that the Town of Fort Qu’Appelle and other municipalities in this watershed can and should undertake to become an environmentally aware and responsible community.
These include: declarations that indicate that the Town is committed to this redirection (#1-3), important policy initiatives that the Town can take locally (# 4-7), and new initiatives to protect the valley environment that will enhance the attractiveness and local economy of the community (# 8-10).
At the June 15, 2019 Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the QVEA a motion was unanimously passed calling upon the Town of Fort Qu’Appelle to:
1. Declare Climate Emergency:
We call upon the Town council to pass a motion that Fort Qu’Appelle recognizes that Canada and the world now face a climate emergency.
2. Incorporate Watershed Protection into Town Mission:
The Province’s Statements of Provincial Interest regarding the Planning and Development Act, 2007, under which municipalities including the Town of Fort Qu’Appelle govern, include the following:
6.2: Biodiversity and Natural Ecosystems:
“The province has an interest in conserving Saskatchewan’s biodiversity, unique landscapes and ecosystems for present and future generations.” (This refers to the ecological value of wetlands, riparian areas.)
6.12: Shore Lands and Water Bodies:
“The province has an interest in environmental stewardship, responsible development and public access to provincial water bodies and shore lands.” (This refers to considering/avoiding impacts of development on watersheds.)
6.13: Source Water Protection:
“The province has an interest in the protection of water sources that provide safe drinking water.” (This refers to effects of development on water quality.)
The Town’s Official Community Plan (OCP) does make some good general statements about protecting the valley environment, but these have not yet been translated into concrete decision-making.
We therefore call upon the Town to amend its Mission 2017 Statement, which presently highlights ensuring “the efficient management of our assets and resources”, while failing to mention the rich natural valley environment in which we live, to include reference to the Town’s commitment to protect ecosystem biodiversity, the unique valley landscape, water bodies (lakes, river and creeks) and source water protection in the valley.
3. Press Province to Lower SK’s High Carbon Emissions:
Rising greenhouse gas levels (now over 400 ppm) will continue to raise global temperatures, alter climate and put biodiversity and watershed health here and elsewhere at further risk. Saskatchewan now has the highest per capita carbon emissions in Canada; more than three times the national average and more than fifteen times the global average (70/20/4 tonnes per person, respectively). Along with Alberta, SK has had steadily rising emissions since 2005, which, with only 15% of the population, are now almost equal to those coming from the rest of Canada (351 million-tonnes from Alberta and SK combined, compared to 365 Mt in the rest of Canada in 2017). These steadily rising emissions are linked to extracting high-carbon fossil fuels, including bitumen from the tar sands, for export. And the carbon emitted elsewhere, including from exported gas and coal along with oil, is not even calculated in our emission figures. Rising emissions in SK and Alberta have nullified the reductions made elsewhere (e.g. Ontario, Quebec and B.C.), and could make it impossible for us to meet our international emission reduction obligations in the Paris Agreement.
We therefore call upon the Town and other municipalities in the Qu’Appelle Valley to press the Province to give immediate and sincere leadership to reduce our extremely high carbon emissions, including taking action to reduce high-carbon, agricultural chemical pollution and to stop ecologically-damaging drainage and wetland destruction practices, that reduce naturally-occurring carbon sinking, within our watershed and across Saskatchewan.
4. Move Towards Renewable Energy in Valley:
With its exceptional prairie wind and sunshine, the Qu’Appelle Valley is an ideal place to generate renewable electrical energy. We call upon the Town to support the local conversion to low-carbon renewable energy, including the Town taking the lead and negotiating with Sask Power to become a net producer of renewable energy.
5. Ban Environmentally Damaging Dumping:
On March 21, 2018 the Town was issued an Environmental Protection Order requiring it to clean up contaminated soil and rubble that it had been allowing to be dumped at or near the old lagoon in the aftermath of the demolition of the old Indian Hospital in 2014. This was deemed to be a threat to downstream water quality. The March 28, 2018 Order stated that, “The Town…is permitting the disposal of asphalt and other waste material that are generating leachate and contaminating the environment and potentially can make its way to the Qu’Appelle River and Mission Lake that will have negative impact on the environment and human health”. The required cleanup was at considerable cost to the local ratepayer. We now know from Freedom of Information (FOI) files that Town officials turned a blind eye to such dumping even though they knew that, after 2016, this dumping (e.g. of asphalt) was not acceptable to the Province. (See July 7, 2016 email “old lagoon site” from Town Foreman to CAO). The QVEA had been monitoring this dumping since 2016 and was the whistleblower on the Town’s continued non-compliance.
We therefore now call upon the Town to pass a resolution and instigate a policy that it will no longer allow any such practices of dumping, which would continue to degrade local marshes, the valley river, lakeshores, lakes or hillsides.
6. Rezone to Protect River and Creek banks:
Past council decisions have allowed significant sections of the river bank and creek banks and beds within the Town to not only be blocked from public access but also to be degraded through ecologically-inappropriate land uses. These include: storage of heavy equipment by the Town, storage of waste building materials by Tulik and Apex, use as lots for light industry in marshland by the old lagoon, or approved commercial and residential buildings directly on the river banks. (This issue recently came up regarding local business, Duraline, which had previously been allowed to build on fill placed on the river bank by the bridge.) These land uses all undermine the “ecological services” that shoreline vegetation plays in protecting water. Continuing with these flawed practices will not only pose a threat to future property values, but, most vital, because of hydrology and other physical factors, they will jeopardize the protection of shoreline habitat and downstream water quality through inevitable future flooding, erosion and runoff. In an era of climate change the continuation of these practices is totally unacceptable.
We therefore call upon the Town to make the necessary changes to zoning and land use practices to stop and reverse the degradation of the Qu’Appelle River banks and creek bank and beds within our community.
7. Ban Toxic/Carcinogenic Chemicals:
Highly toxic chemicals are presently being used on private lots, sections of the Trans Canada Trail (e.g. in Fort San) and are likely being used at the Golf Course. These leach from runoff along shoreline areas to further compromise the water and health of adjoining marshland habitats. These toxins also put walkers, golfers, bikers, children and pets at risk. Widely used herbicides/pesticides containing malathion, diazinon and glyphosate (Roundup) are now considered “probable” carcinogens, while those containing tetrachlorvinphos and parathion are considered “possible” carcinogens by the World Health Organization.
We therefore call upon the Town to take immediate action, along with other municipalities in the valley, to ban the use of herbicides/pesticides that pose a threat to human and environmental health, such as Roundup (glyphosate) and Par 3 (containing the toxins 2-4-D, dicamba and mecoprop), anywhere in our community.
8. Declare Parcel Y Marshland an Environmental Reserve:
The proposed Abaco Marina project, which the previous council unabashedly supported, was to be built in floodplain/marshland along Echo Lake. Abaco indicated that it was even willing to “dredge” the marshland if necessary, which would be completely unacceptable, environmentally. (See Oct. 7, 2014 email from Abaco President to Mayor Osika, “Offer to Purchase Lot Y”.)
There was a large public outcry about these land deals - the giveaway, conflict of interest and environmental damage, which led to 743 ratepayers calling for an audit. We now know that even with these important questions being widely raised locally, both before and after the Nov. 2016 Town election, that the new mayor and council continued to meet privately with Abaco to show their support for this environmentally destructive project. (See Nov. 1, 2017 email from Mayor Whiting to council, saying that after meeting privately with Abaco, Abaco “received indication of this council’s support for the project.”) This behind-the scenes support for Abaco’s marina project in the face of such widespread public concern was never admitted publicly or supported with a council motion.
But we must move forward. Regardless of these non-transparent actions, the council now needs to clearly indicate that it is committed to protecting Echo lake and its shoreline marsh land. It is time for the Town’s elected officials to acknowledge that in the Official Community Plan Parcel Y is deemed to be “Environmentally Sensitive lands” and, as such, should be dedicated as Environmental Reserve (See 3.8, General Policy # 4, pp. 33-4.) The August 28, 2015 Agreement to sell Parcel Y to Abaco stipulates, in Section 7, that without a service agreement by Jan. 1, 2020, which is coming soon, “…Abaco shall forthwith transfer title to the Property back to the Town…” The Town should therefore not enter into any service agreement with Abaco regarding the commercial development of this marshland, which is all “floodway” and should not be so developed. There is also a clause in this Agreement, as point # 5, stating that “In the event Town (sic) is unable to secure the necessary zoning change, this Agreement shall be deemed in all ways terminated and of no further force or effect”. (p. 2). With these riders in the land sale Agreement, the Town should clearly be taking action to protect Echo Lake and its floodplain and marshland.
MNP’s audit ignored many crucial facts that will be documented in an upcoming QVEA publication, The Marsh Papers. However, after MNP consulted with Provincial Planning and Development, it did conclude “that the Fort Qu’Appelle municipal council should have considered the following legislation prior to embarking on the sale of this property”. It then lists the Statement of Provincial Interest Regulations (See # 2 above), The Planning and Development Act 2007 and the Town’s own “zoning by-laws and Community Plan” (see MNP, March 25, 2018, p. 27).
More vital and disconcerting, and noticeably not mentioned in MNP’s audit nor reported to the Ministry of Justice on March 25, 2018, is the fact that no Town Minutes showing council approval of this sale of the Parcel Y floodplain and marshland to Abaco, have ever been publicly provided. And once again, in August 2019, for the third time since 2017, we have been informed by Town officials that there is “no record” of the council approving the sale of this land. Something clearly went very wrong and it should therefore be corrected.
We therefore call upon the Town, regardless of whether Abaco owns or sells this marshland, to publicly commit to getting Parcel Y, containing the Trans Canada Trail and the local Lions Club observation deck, publicly accessible, and further, to help protect and restore this vulnerable marsh habitat, with its valued walking trail, as an Environmental Reserve.
9. Support Marsh Interpretive Centre:
There is an obvious need and opportunity to now act to protect and enhance this massive marsh area with its animal, plant, insect, bird and fish habitat, into the future, along with providing the opportunity for ongoing Environmental Education with regional schools and encouraging low-impact eco-tourist visitors to come to our community.
We therefore call upon the Town to commit to work with all interested parties, including Indigenous people and environmental and naturalist groups (such as the SK Wildlife Federation), who all have a stake in protecting and restoring the marsh-floodway area that stretches along the south shore of Echo Lake, to establish a Marsh Interpretive Centre.
10. Create a Green Space Plan.
It would be both sad and ironic for a community like Fort Qu’Appelle within such a lush river and lake valley environment to end up looking like a parking lot. The small pocket park on main street is a start but this is hardly sufficient as Green Space for the wellbeing of permanent residents, for going outdoors, for picnics and for visitors in a Town the size of Fort Qu’Appelle.
We therefore call upon the Town to develop a Plan to designate Green Spaces and to pass a bylaw to ensure that designated Green Space areas are protected from future commercial, residential or industrial development. The Town could start by declaring the marshland in Parcel Y as a Green Space.
Finally, we call upon the Town to hold a well-advertised public forum where all parties concerned about protecting valley landscape, biodiversity and the watershed - including lakes, marshes, river, creeks and hills, and proactively addressing the climate crisis, can raise and discuss their concerns directly with the Town’s elected mayor and councillors, and hear directly what they will be doing about these urgent matters.
The June 15, 2019 AGM also passed a motion that QVEA Directors with a delegation of QVEA supporters meet with the Town council to discuss these matters and that the Directors monitor and report back to QVEA members and the wider community of concern within the Qu’Appelle Valley about progress in making these important changes to help protect and restore the health of the valley and watershed. At present we have nearly 300 people in our watershed network. This is the background to us bringing this Brief to the Fort Qu’Appelle Council on Sept. 12, 2019.
Lorna Evans, Jim Harding, Randy Lebell and Greg Van Luven
QVEA Directors 2019-20