Wednesday, 16 November 2011 15:39

Operation of Lake Diefenbaker under review

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By Matthew Liebenberg — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
An expert review of the operations at Gardiner Dam over the past year is currently under way, but for a group of downstream farmers and landowners it might not be enough to address their concerns about being flooded again.

The review of the operations by the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority at Lake Diefenbaker is conducted by the Centre of Hydrology at the University of Saskatchewan. The review team is led by Dr. John Pomeroy and Dr. Kevin Shook from the Centre of Hydrology.

Dale Hjertaas, who is the executive director for policy and communications at the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority, said there are two reasons for the external review.

“It’s good policy and practice we try to follow here at the Watershed Authority after a major event to do some sort of a review to learn from the experience. Secondly, there have been expressions of concern from people downstream as to whether the reservoir could have provided more flood protection to them downstream.”

The Valley People Association has been vocal in their demand for such a review. Vice-chairperson Wallace Hamm said it is a major issue for them.

“The focus of this organization right now is the preservation of our rights to farm our land without a threat of unnecessary flooding by government agencies. ... Now that the election is over, we’re definitely going to be looking for government to turn back to this issue and deal with it.”

The association represents land users along the South Saskatchewan River from Diefenbaker Lake to the area just north of Saskatoon. Hamm said they are pleased with the review, but they are worried it will not address their main concern about the operation of the dam.

“There is the hydrology aspect in terms of the water management to the watershed and they’ve appointed two professors at the university with significant hydrology background,” he mentioned. “We’re going to put forward some alternative names. They have no one that’s really qualified to review the operation of the dam itself in terms of its original design parameters.”

A major issue for them is that Saskatchewan Watershed Authority is not prepared to use the 13 feet of freeboard in the dam to manage peak flows.

“They consider the current full supply level to be the maximum level that can ever be used in that reservoir,” Hamm said. “The designers some 50 years ago made sure that there was an extra 13 feet or so of additional space that can be used for emergency flood control. The current administration doesn’t understand the design of the dam.”

Minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority Dustin Duncan announced the operational review of Lake Diefenbaker on Oct. 7.

The university team will evaluate information about the management of the reservoir for the period Aug. 1, 2010 to July 31, 2011.

They will also interview staff in the Watershed Authority and in other agencies who were involved in forecasting or managing the reservoir. Management practices will be assessed against operational objectives for the reservoir.

The review is to be completed by Jan. 31, 2012.

According to Hjertaas, this expert review will not include consultation with external stakeholders.

“This is a technical, professional review by a couple of professional hydrologists from the university and so the chance for people to have their say will come subsequently,” he said.

After the review the Watershed Authority plans to consult with stakeholders about the management of Lake Diefenbaker.

This may result in a revised operating plan for the reservoir and the establishment of water quality objectives.

Hamm said there is a need for an oversight body that will incorporate the interests of different stakeholders.

“There has to be a balance of interests,” he emphasized. “Don’t forget, there’s numerous interests. SaskPower is the only interest right now that has any particular impact on Saskatchewan Watershed Authority.”

 Bill Langin, who is the manager at Palliser Regional Park, said the needs of seasonal and recreational users are often overlooked.

“If you have 12 different users, we’re going to be the bottom. Although government is starting to realize that we bring a lot of money around this lake into the province through recreation.”

He is convinced consultation with stakeholders about the management priorities for Lake Diefenbaker will achieve a compromise to balance the needs of different parties.

“We’re glad about the dam, because it made Diefenbaker Lake what it is,” he said. “Basically, our only concern with the dam is the height of the water that they allow it to get to. It’s eroding the shoreline on a consistent basis. I think that’s the concern of all the parks, including the provincial parks, around the lake.”

Hjertaas said the current management plan and operational procedures for the dam will remain in place until the completion of the review process.


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