2013 Water Is Life: The Qu'Appelle Valley Forum on Water Quality

Report on the June 22, 2013 Fort Qu’Appelle Forum
By Jim Harding

On June 22, 2013, the Fort Qu’Appelle KAIROS group hosted a regional forum on water quality. Over one hundred people came - scientists, indigenous and settler residents, cottagers, municipal and provincial officials, watershed protection volunteers and many others came to hear talks, music and carry on conversations during the barbeque. The event was moderated by local United Church Minister Sharron Bodnaryk.

The gathering was welcomed to Treaty 4 Territory by Edmund Bellegarde from the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council (FHQTC). He reaffirmed the theme that water is sacred, that water is life, drawing an analogy with how the blood flowing through our bodies maintains our life, with waterways being the “veins of mother earth”. He expressed FHQTC’s concerns about both quality and quantity of water in the Qu’Appelle River system, highlighting increasing demands for water from industry, and called for collaboration to address these matters.

Regina's Sewage

The keynote speaker was Dr. Marley Waiser, retired water scientist from Environment Canada. She outlined the findings of her 2005-07 study on the impacts of Regina’s sewage on Wascana Creek, which flows into the Qu’Appelle system. She focused on pharmaceutics as well as the nitrogen nutrients that lead to toxic algae, mentioning other research showing heavy metal contamination in the waterway.

More sensitive detection shows “widespread presence” of residues from pharmaceutical and personal care products flushed into Regina’s and Moose Jaw’s sewage systems upstream, including everything from antibiotics to anti-infective hand soaps to birth control drugs. Past sewage treatment plants weren’t designed to remove these and there is now scientific concern that “chronic exposure of low concentrations” may alter the aquatic food chain. Studies have shown that some contaminants lead to sex changes within fish. The research site 105 km downstream from Regina detected contaminants. Waiser noted 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”.

Waiser advocated stringent monitoring while noting that there aren’t water quality objectives for pharmaceutics. She noted the importance of the Experimental Lakes Project which Harper’s government has cut, in doing pioneering research on threats to Canada’s water quality. During questions she expressed concern about the “politicization of Environment Canada” under Harper, and noted that 80% of its water monitoring budget is now for Alberta’s oil sands, leaving little for the rest of the country. Science shouldn’t be used to manage political perception.

Industrial Demands

The first panelist, Chief Todd Peigan from Pasqua First Nations raised the warning about increasing demands for water from the potash industry. He noted that other than the Western mine near Milestone, which wants to use Regina’s waste water, all proposed mines plan to get water from Buffalo Pound. Buffalo Pound is the source of water for both Regina and Moose Jaw.

In March 2012 a FHQTC Summit on water and industry noted that the province’s new mines are around Moose Jaw, 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”.

The province proposes a new channel from Lake Diefenbaker to Buffalo Pound, which the FHQTC Summit said would increase the flow from 17 to 25 cubic meters a second. There’s also talk about creating an irrigated agro-business corridor along this channel. Chief Peigan continually raised the question of “availability”; “where was all this water to come from?”

Lake Diefenbaker provides water for nearly one-half of Saskatchewan’s residents. It already provides water for several potash mines and irrigation projects and was even considered as the location for a nuclear plant. The vast majority of its water comes from Alberta. Yet researchers from the University of Saskatchewan’s Global Institute for Water Security recently raised concerns about the levels of phosphorous coming along with that water. Also global warming has already reduced by one-fifth the Alberta glaciers that help replenish Saskatchewan waterways and there are bound to be periods of future drought. Serious questions about upstream water quality and quantity remain.

Local Economy

Ken Hutchinson, chair of the Calling Lakes District Planning Commission (CLDPC), spoke of the negative impact of degraded lake water on the recreational economy. The CLDPC is a regional planning body in the making and includes Fort Qu’Appelle, Lebret, Fort San, B-Say-Tah, Katepwa and the regional Rural Municipality, as well as several Associates, including Lipton and the Treaty Four Tribal Council.

Hutchinson has raised regional concerns about poor water quality with both levels of government. The federal government says it has “bigger problems”, such as raw sewage from big cities still going into oceans. Because of the impact on the valuable commercial fishery the federal government is however concerned about the serious state of algae, fish-toxicity in Lake Winnipeg, and this ultimately relates to what’s happening in the upstream watershed, including the Qu’Appelle lake chain. There are no shortcuts to restoring eco-system health.

Hutchinson expressed concern that there was “no government leadership” and called on government and First Nations to quickly resolve outstanding issues over control structures. He also raised concern that the non-governmental group established through the WSA, the Lower Qu’Appelle Watershed Stewards (LQWS) had set as its water quality objective only “to prevent a decline in quality from current levels”, which would mean accepting the high toxic algae that Pasqua residents experience in late summer. He also noted that in correspondence from the provincial Minister about “how priorities (were) established” in drought years, the Commission was told “Licensed users are accorded fist priority to water”. The Minister also said in “extreme drought years, lakes within the Qu’Appelle basin will fall below their desirable operating range for recreation”, which presumably means because industry will get first dibs. Water may still be seen as a property right, which does not abide by the United Nations’ view of water as a human right.

Towards Water Quality

John Mark Davies, researcher with the Water Security Agency (WSA) which monitors these lakes, reported that though nutrients in the system had “come down since the 1970s and 1980s”, they were “still high”. He said the WSA was starting to model the Qu’Appelle lakes to gain better predictive understanding to help manage the system. He acknowledged that Regina is a major source of nutrients but did not respond directly to questions raised earlier about the implications of growing industrial demand for water or about the need to seriously target lower levels of contamination. Along with keynote speaker Wasier, Davies advocated careful monitoring and setting achievable targets as one means to enhance water quality.

The other panelist, Duane Mohn, who has worked with wetlands protection, reminded us that water was excluded from the NAFTA agreement with the U.S. and that there were still water diversion plans “on the table”. He raised concerns about agricultural practices that degrade waterways, noting that he knew examples where property rights (“my land”) was used as an excuse to dump leftover farm chemicals into local sloughs. Mohn called for a “buffer zone” to protect Saskatchewan waterways and noted the importance of the Indian Head tree nursery, which Harper had also cut, for reducing erosion and enhancing biodiversity, which protects water quality. He also called for public access strips along shorelines, such as exist elsewhere, to help protect lake fronts from over-development.

The last panelist, Jessica Gordon arrived late from a long trip and a workshop was organized to discuss how Idle No More activities relate to the protection of water. Event organizers failed to get a spokesperson from the newly formed LQWS, but people attended from the Saskatchewan Associations of Watersheds (SAW), Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) and the Regina group organizing to keep water treatment in public hands. This was likely one of the most diverse gatherings on protecting water quality yet to be held in rural Saskatchewan. The Fort Qu’Appelle KAIROS plans to coordinate some follow-up.

Note: In Feb., 2016 the local Kairos disbanded and its activists formed the QVEA. See other items under Public Forums.

Photo: Tourism Saskatchewan

First Ever All-Candidates Environmental Forum

Fort Qu’Appelle, March 24, 2016
By Jim Harding, Ph. D.
Originally printed in R-Town News

All candidates from all parties were invited to QVEA's March 24, 2016 Provincial Election Forum

Glen Hart, Don McMorris, David Delaney, David Buchocik, Ashley Nemeth, Mary Ann Harrison, Andrea Huang, Justin Stranack, Rick Swenson, Sheila Olson

March 24th the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA) hosted a forum for candidates in the two main ridings abutting the Qu’Appelle Valley. They were asked: “What will you and your party do to protect and restore the extremely vulnerable landscape, habitats and watershed within the Qu’Appelle Valley?” This was the first electoral forum with an environmental focus in Saskatchewan history.

The 100 plus people attending were from up and down the valley area. Candidates from all five parties committed, but Liberal David Delainey later cancelled as did NDP Ashley Nemeth. In the end Sask Party MLAs Glen Hart and Don McMorris, Progressive Conservatives (PC) Rick Swenson and Carol Olson, NDP Mary Ann Harrison and Green Justin Stranach participated.

I moderated the forum and listened carefully with an open mind to what was and wasn’t said.

The Openers

In his opener Hart said the government was “enforcing drainage regulations” and that with extreme weather Regina had little control over its sewage releases. Olson (PC) stated there should be more “accountability to maintain the integrity of the environment.” PC leader Swenson said there were things to learn from the past Qu’Appelle Implementation Board (1975-1984). He argued that Regina failed to design its infrastructure to protect the Qu’Appelle watershed, noting that Moose Jaw had long been using effluent for irrigation. He noted that 60% of Saskatchewan residents depend on water from Lake Diefenbaker, and thought Water Security should be “moving up” its 25-year plan.

NDP Harrison opposed “industry self-policing” and called for a “stronger rural voice on the environment.” She advocated introducing a Biodiversity Index, such as in Norway. McMorris stated “our government takes environment very seriously”, highlighting the $1.5 billion spent on carbon capture, part of its oil-recovery program. McMorris said “water quality is near and dear to me”, reassuring the audience that the province’s “checks and balances” would protect the valley. He noted that Water Security had issued an environmental protection order (a letter of non-compliance) to Regina.

Green candidate Stranach called for more participatory democracy and all-party collaboration to create a solid Action Plan to better protect the valley.

Water Supply, Flooding, Marshes

Understandably, MLAs would defend the Sask Party government while opposition candidates would point out shortcomings and propose alternatives. However, the audience questions and discussion were educational and got beyond this partisanship, which was what the hosting group intended.

Water supply and industry “rights” got some attention. McMorris claimed “it is the people’s water”. Swenson however, wondered why the public agency Sask Water would consider building a pipeline from Buffalo Pound “just for Yancoal’s use”. Swenson argued that this Chinese state corporation “could be here for 50 years” and its obligations weren’t clear. MLA Hart rebutted that we had been doing “solution mining for 30 years” and had regulations in place..

Using the expanding water in the Quill Lakes for solution mining was again suggested, as was the call to stop destructive drainage by reimbursing farmers to “store water for drought years”. “Pumping water onto our neighbours is not a solution”, added a Southey farmer.

The province’s sale of environmentally-sensitive marshland for a possible hotel-marina was discussed. Concern was expressed that there was no public consultation; McMorris commented that crown land can be sold “without a public process”. In response PC Olson said that the “people should have a say” about whether a marina went ahead in an environmentally-sensitive location.

Carbon, Renewables and Disconnects

Carbon pricing came up after the coffee break. McMorris again stressed the government’s carbon capture project, claiming the world needed “clean coal”. Swenson, on the other hand, called for “new forms of energy”, noting all the “co-generation of electricity” that could come from waste heat in the resource sector. NDP Harrison called for more “investment in alternatives”.
McMorris noted that Sask Power is now committed to “50% renewables by 2030” but added that we need coal for “baseload power”. Green Party Stranach noted that there was a technological revolution in storing renewable energy, mentioning the Tesla battery.

The disconnect between rhetoric about environmental regulation and lack of enforcement was discussed. McMorris stressed that as we move forward we need to “look at what we all are doing.” Harrison commented that the province didn’t “react enough” when Regina dumped sewage. Swenson noted that since the Qu’Appelle Implementation Plan was shelved “land use management went to the municipalities”.

PC Olson reiterated that “the government needs to be accountable for enforcing rules”, claiming that “rural Saskatchewan is being left behind by the Sask Party”. MLA Hart repeated that we have regulations in place that have worked. Swenson responded that “we’ve done some disturbing things” and I hope “we’ve gotten a bit smarter”.

Some Submitted Questions

"The flow into Lake Diefenbaker has been going down for 100 years and will continue to go down sharply with climate change. Meanwhile the province is in the process of expanding solution mining, which can use up as much water as is needed by a major city. Yancoal's mine near Earl Grey, upstream from the Qu'Appelle Valley, will draw down the water in Buffalo Pound, and divert 10 to 20 million cubic metres of surface water a year from the Lower Qu'Appelle. Shouldn't we be protecting our limited water, rather than using it for such unsustainable and polluting solution mining?"

"The Qu'Appelle Valley is being detrimentally affected by extreme weather linked to climate change. Meanwhile SK has the highest per capita carbon footprint in all of Canada, and among the highest on the planet. What will your party do to immediately reduce the carbon footprint in SK?"

“Regina’s sewage has been a major cause of the degradation of water quality in the Calling Lakes, especially Pasqua Lake. Why did it take so long (20 years after other prairie cities) for the City to have to upgrade its wastewater treatment? And why has Water Security allowed Regina to continue to dump large amounts of untreated sewage into the Lower Qu’Appelle? Should the province’s Water Permits now ban any and all sewage dumping into our waterways?

“The Qu’Appelle Valley has been a major recreational destination for decades. Yet the valley environment, its landscape, habitats and water quality, has continued to be degraded by incremental changes at the local, municipal level. This degradation will continue to undermine the valley’s local economy as a place of beauty, retreat and vibrant commerce. What will your party do to reverse this unfortunate trend?”

Burning Questions

What wasn’t discussed was as important as what was. Climate change reducing the amount of water going into Lake Diefenbaker wasn’t discussed. No one raised the cost-ineffectiveness of spending on carbon capture to salvage fossil fuels. What if Saskatchewan had instead invested $1.5 billion in a conversion to renewables, reducing and then phasing out coal, like other jurisdictions? No one discussed why the Sask Party government took so long to set targets for renewables, while spending so much time and energy advocating nuclear power. While McMorris said we can now “put renewables on the grid”, no one noted that Saskatchewan doesn’t have a Feed-In Tariff (FIT), which is what accelerated renewables elsewhere.

There wasn’t much concrete discussion about the Qu’Appelle Valley environment, which is what the forum was for. NDP Harrison did raise the issue of a Biodiversity Index. And if environmental regulation is working as both government MLA’s claimed, why hasn’t this prevented the continual deterioration of biodiversity and water quality in the Qu’Appelle Valley? McMorris was enthusiastic about Water Security’s 3-year study, but it only looks at nutrient sources and doesn’t include the agricultural chemicals (pesticides) Water Security admits contribute to the highly stressed state of our watershed.

Though it could be interpreted as a diversion, McMorris was probably right that there are many factors contributing to the declining health of the Qu’Appelle Valley. It is easy for valley municipal officials to point the finger at Regina yet ignore their own responsibilities for land-use protection and environmental stewardship. The vast majority of municipal officials in the valley area were noticeable by their absence.

This was a preliminary public discussion which the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA) hopes to build upon. The need to reintroduce something like the Qu’Appelle Implement Plan, which Swenson stressed, has to be put front and centre. One attendee commented that under this Plan, the marshland that the province was selling for a private marina was to have been protected as wildlife habitat and wondered “why this was never done?”

The caring public needs to continue to ask questions.

2016 Municipal Election Forum

Friday Oct. 21, 2016, Fort Qu'Appelle, SK

The Lakes

Our region is shaped by the Qu’Appelle Valley and the beauty of the landscape and health of the watershed which continue to deteriorate. Our elected officials need to create a shared vision for protecting and restoring the health of the valley. Specific actions to prevent sewage and agricultural run-off in particular from entering the Calling Lakes are urgently needed to start to enhance the water quality. We need an Action Plan.


Valley residents include both indigenous and settler communities. If these communities worked together we would be more effective in protecting and restoring the health and beauty of the valley. Our elected officials need to start proposing ways to create better working relations between settler and indigenous communities.


Saskatchewan has a record high number of local governments and the resulting fragmentation can discourage addressing the larger issues, including the environmental health of the Qu’Appelle Valley. Let’s have an open discussion as to whether some type of amalgamation of local governments would allow us to better address the common challenges we face.

Local Economy

The local economy here is greatly based on the environmental, historical and recreational significance of the Qu’Appelle Valley. We need a frank, inclusive discussion about how to encourage a more vibrant regional-tourist economy that respects and protects the Qu’Appelle Valley. This is about much more than branding.

Local Responsibility

Others, such as the City of Regina, are often blamed for the deteriorating water quality in the Calling Lakes. Yet there are examples of our local governments not respecting or following environmental protection and waste management regulations. What do we need to do to ensure that our local governments do not permit activities that contribute to the loss of wetlands, lowering of water quality or deterioration of the landscape?

Voter Participation

Unfortunately there is very low voter turnout in municipal elections. Residents can get discouraged by the political shenanigans, and the lack of accountability and transparency that we sometimes see. Understandably it is hard to get people to run for office, as shown by all the acclamations in Fort San and the RM. Those running for office need to help jump-start a conversation about how to increase citizen participation and raise the standards of governance in municipal affairs.

We encourage the voting public and those running for office to consider these and other vital issues and to come to the Municipal Election Forum Oct. 21st at the local Legion Hall at 7 pm. Watch for the posters and upcoming ads.

Hosted by QVEA.

Candidates Confirmed for Election Forum on Valley Environment

Press Release from Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA) Oct. 17, 2016

Monday, Oct. 17, 2016

Dear Candidate

Thank you for agreeing to participate in the Oct. 21st municipal election forum “Who is caring for the Qu’Appelle Valley?” If you have not yet confirmed attendance we trust that you will still come.

The Format

The format for the evening will be as follows:

1) There will be three main topics, with a short coffee break after the second topic;

2) It will be a Q and A format with candidates being given an equal opportunity to comment and answer; answers will have to be short (one minute) to ensure full participation;

3) All participants (candidates and voting public) will be asked to be respectful and to stay on topic;

4) Each candidate will be given one minute for a closing statement.

The Questions

The three main questions will be:

1) What would an Action Plan to start to clean up the lakes look like? How can settler and indigenous communities work better together to accomplish this?

2) Would some form of amalgamation enable us to work more holistically and cooperatively to protect and restore the health of the valley environment? Would this enable us to work towards a more environmentally-friendly and attractive local economy?

3) What specifically should local governments do to ensure that the Qu’Appelle Valley is being cared for? What can we do right away to better protect and provide better public access to beautiful marshes, riverbanks, lakesides and hillsides?

We look forward to a positive and constructive evening.

Randy Lebell
for QVEA Organizing Committee

Mayoral Candidates Confirmed

Both candidates for mayor and most candidates for the Fort Qu’Appelle council are now confirmed for our Oct. 21st environmental forum, event organizer Randy Lebell reported today. Jerry Whiting and Gus Lagace who are vying to replace Ron Osika as town mayor will be joined by council candidates Brian Casper, Rebecca Hill, Lee Finishen, Doug Blatter and Jeff Brown. “We have received encouraging responses from Gordon Giroux and Larry Schultz and still hope to hear from Phil Parfitt and Brian Janz”, Lebell added.

The forum is headlined “Who is caring for the Qu’Appelle Valley?”. QVEA organizers have noted that candidates have already raised issues in their Fort Times interviews that have environmental implications. Phil Parfitt has commented that there needs “to be amenities to attract visitors” if the present initiatives to brand the community are to have a positive effect. This will require elected officials looking closely at how enjoyment of the valley is encouraged or discouraged by existing practices. Rebecca Hill has stated she wants to “prioritize what our community strategy is…are we a tourist destination? A resort community?”, she has asked. Environmental protection would also have to go hand in hand with this.

Both Larry Schultz and Doug Blatter have expressed support for amalgamation. “The forum will discuss whether amalgamation would encourage elected officials to think more holistically about protecting the beauty and health of the valley”, said Lebell.

Gordon Giroux has stated he wants to “maintain a pleasurable environment” along with progressive development. He has also raised the issue of how decisions of one municipality can affect another. “The controversial RV campground proposed for Jasmine in the RM is bound to be raised”, said QVEA organizer Lorna Evans.

RM Also Attending

The forum has invited candidates from the RM. “You can’t have a discussion about protecting the valley without including the vast rural areas that pollute the watershed”, added Evans.

Six of seven RM Divisions were filled by acclamation but Division 1, which includes Taylor Beach will be hotly contested. “One candidate Brent Kezama has confirmed and we are waiting for confirmation from Ron Palmer and incumbent Tom Braithwaite”, said Evans. Palmer has already raised some important issues like the role of the RM in dealing with erosion. He has stated that the Hamlets are seen as a tax base (“they like our taxes”) but otherwise we “are forgotten”. Incumbent Reeve Harry McDonald has confirmed attendance and the other candidate, John Linklater has indicated he will try to attend.

The two-hour forum will focus on three topics – an Action Plan to start to clean up the lakes; whether amalgamation can help create more co-operation to protect the valley; and a discussion about local government responsibilities to restore and protect the marshes, riverbanks and hillsides. “We think that it is important to have an honest discussion about how indigenous and settler communities can better work together to protect the water”, said Lebell. “We also think that we need to become clearer how to foster a more environmentally-friendly local economy and to be sure that local zoning accomplishes this”, added Evans. “The proposed marina in the marsh area is bound to come up”, she added.

This will be the second election forum hosted by the QVEA. It hosted a provincial election forum on the valley environment which packed the local Legion hall. “This was the first of its kind in the whole province”, added QVEA organizer Jim Harding. “We all know that we live in a vulnerable watershed and that our economic prosperity as well as our overall environmental health depends on protecting this.” “It is encouraging that so many candidates are willing to participate in this vital forum”, Harding added.

Qu' Appelle Valley Environmental Association

Box 506, Fort Qu' Appelle, Saskatchewan S0G 1S0

© 2017 Qu'Appelle Valley Environmental Association. All Rights Reserved.