Thursday 26 November 2020

Everybody Has a Watershed: Lower Qu'Appelle Watershed Stewards

“In recognizing that there is only a finite amount of water in the world, we realize that the water we drink today is the same water we will drink tomorrow and our grandchildren will drink generations from now. This necessitates the promotion of an ethic of water usage and a realization that water is simply too valuable not to manage properly.” 
(Right Hon. Jean Chrétien) 

“Everybody lives in a watershed,” says Alice Davis, Watershed Manager for the Lower Qu’Appelle Watershed Stewards. “We’re all responsible for protecting the water that drains out of our region into nearby lakes, rivers, and streams. It would be sad if we didn’t feel safe to swim or fish because of septic tank leakage or other forms of pollution.” 

In 2001, 700 people became ill after drinking contaminated tap water in North Battleford. Fortunately, no one died, but it was a warning that care needed to be taken to protect our water sources. In 2003, the provincial government implemented Source Water Protection Planning, a process specific to a defined watershed or aquifer, in which stakeholders and local residents collaborate to develop a plan to prevent the pollution of lakes, reservoirs, rivers, streams, and groundwater that serve as sources of drinking water. The province currently has 11 non-profit watershed stewardship groups that receive an annual grant from the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency, which is supplemented by membership fees and grants. 

The Lower Qu’Appelle Watershed Stewards (LQWS) is committed to protecting the water in the Lower Qu’Appelle River watershed, which stretches from close to the town of Craven to the Manitoba border. “We’re slightly different from other watersheds as we include 6 recreational lakes,” explains Alice Davis. In addition, 16 First Nations own land surrounding the river and are significant stakeholders. The LQWS supports the First Nations Water Association, the personnel responsible for operating the First Nations water treatment plants. Their goal is to build capacity at the community level for the care and control of water on reserve. 

Alice Davis says that the organization keeps its eyes and ears open regarding issues that could affect the health of the watershed. “We’re very fortunate,” Alice says, “as the Qu’Appelle River is a favorite of many people. We have a huge volume of volunteers and advocacy groups who are more than willing to jump in and help. Without those people, we wouldn’t be where we are today.” The river has also been the basis for many different university research projects with professors more than willing to lend a hand. “The river is Peter Leavitt’s love and joy,” Alice says. 

When a potash company wanted to set up a mine within the watershed, LQWS learned that it had very limited time to read 3 huge binders of information and provide feedback as part of the environmental assessment. “We put a call out to university people who had an interest and asked them to review the material and give their opinion,” Alice explains. “Within a week we had about 8 people providing opinions and strategies. It feels good; we’re all working towards a common goal.” 

Volunteers play a valuable role in sharing information with locals. “We’re trying to educate everyone on beneficial management practices,” Alice says. “We can’t direct information to just certain people. Everyone should know it.” One of the pressing issues at the moment is blue-green algae. The heavy algal blooms are caused by excess phosphorus and nitrogen and can harm humans and animals as well as damaging the ecosystem. Alice says that farm runoff is one source of excess nutrients, but it’s a delicate issue with local farmers as none of us likes to be told what to do or how to do it. The association works with its partners on education-based approaches to try and reduce the impact of agricultural practices in the watershed and supports the financial incentives currently available from the Ministry of Agriculture. 

We all manage a piece of land. Whether it’s a backyard garden, a local business, or a farm, each of us uses water and needs to consider our impact on our watershed. Alice and her husband stopped weeding along the shoreline this year and have noticed that they have far more wildlife – beavers, killdeer, and turtles. “If we protect our watersheds, we protect our lakes and rivers and the water we rely on for drinking, agriculture, recreation, and wildlife,” Alice says. 

See Also 
Farmland Drainage and the Environment Virtual Conference - Dec. 7-11 & Jan. 11-15 

Photo credits: Lower Qu’Appelle Watershed Stewards