Wednesday, 16 September 2015 16:13

Quill Lakes could become a problem for province

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Editor:


The Flooding in the Quill Lakes is no longer just the problem of a few farmers, it is soon to become everyone’s problem.
Every taxpayer has a stake in this.
This “dam” proposal by the Water Security Agency (the Kutawagan Diversion) is just the beginning of a long and expensive mistake that is completely avoidable.
 It will cause countless expenditures long into the future, just to attempt to justify the original mistake.  Recent history to our immediate neighbours to the southeast should be our warning.
The state of North Dakota, is still losing money over forced decisions made in dealing with the Devil’s Lake fiasco, with expenses by federal, state and local governments exceeding a billion dollars so far. 
The U.S. National Weather Service describes “the new climate” when talking about high water events in the North American Great Plains.
Also, there are predictions from the U.S. geological survey that this current flooding cycle may last for decades or longer. 
 In an article by Douglas Larson in the 2011 American Scientist magazine, (net-search “Runaway Devils Lake” a must read for sask. people!) the final paragraph sums up the tragedy perfectly … it states:
“With the crisis unfolding, nature appears to have the upper hand, at least for now. Humans, seeking a technical fix at this late hour, may have lost control of their environment, a lesson about the importance of pre-emptive action to forestall or reverse an impending environmental disaster. This may be particularly true now that unpredictable climate change appears likely across the globe. Having lost the proactive advantage, those working to solve the problem at Devils Lake have been reduced to a rearguard strategy. That is a position that may become familiar to people around the world in years to come.”
We are those “people” at that crossroad, right now, here in this province. The opportunity to take a pre-emptive action is right now. If we try and hold back unwanted volumes of flood water we are just copying the same mistakes made to the south of us, all over again. This will cost the province massive expenditures long into the future, and that should be everyone’s concern.
To prevent flooding, upstream and down, we need an immediate controlled release of water at Quill Lakes now, and a commitment to maintain a constant water level at today’s elevation or lower.
From our flood committee’s investigations we have learned first-hand the majority of the Last Mountain Lake/Qu’Appelle waterway is concerned with flood issues already taking place. 
The statements almost unanimously from community to community are “we can’t handle the water we have now.” 
Today’s fall rain events are mimicking the conditions that caused the spring of 2011 flood.
Added to that scare is a now-threatening 2.1-million acre watershed area that has risen vertically 6.5 metres in 11 years and rising, with less than a metre to go to spill point. 
This is an opportunity to get downstream infrastructure fixed now to reduce the threat of repeating flooding. This will help everyone along the system from the Quills to Hudson Bay prepare for the “new climate” realities.
 If the flooding continues at its current, or possibly at an increased rate, the man-made dam, a ticking time bomb above the Last-Mountain-Qu’Appelle system, will continue to threaten fish habitat, expensive property and infrastructure throughout the entire downstream system every single year.
There is enormous differences, in long-term economic ramifications to the provincial, and to local economies, depending on what is done right now.
The current short term fix proposed by WSA, does not show the economic losses that will be immediate and lengthy due to an avoidable flood.
The estimates prepared by the Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics, and Bill Hodous Ramsey County Extension Agent, North Dakota State University, February 2011 … compare market value of lost crop production, and the additional losses throughout their economy. 
They are listed as an annual market loss of almost $53 million.
This adds up to direct and indirect losses of $194 million, distributed between the crop sector at $57 million, personal income sector $51 million, retail Trade Sector $43 million, and job losses of 1,150 regional jobs. 
We are looking at slightly less total acres than Devils Lake, but anyone can see the guaranteed losses of holding back unwanted water.
This cost estimate does not show the immediate loss to property values, of lost lands already flooded in the Quill Basin of 58,000 acres crown pasture, hay, and recreational lands that devastated cattle and tourism, and 27,000 acres of private lands, estimated at $42 million.
As for the 60,000 acres of prime crop lands, and every farmyard and acreage designated “inside the Quill Basin immediate flood plain,” a decision to dam water back will immediately render all of these lands worthless to be sold or used as collateral.
This creates an immediate further loss of another $150 million to local residents, investors, and lending institutions. The only value they retain is from the few crops they can produce before being flooded out.  These people are left totally trapped with one stroke of a pen. 
Their history, their incomes and their retirement is erased.
The annual losses will continue for decades after the water recedes which could mean a century or more. 
The taxpayers’ costs to building and rebuilding dams will multiply exponentially with each rise in water, just like it did in North Dakota.
One comment from one of the participants in the consultation process was, “we could pay for a new stadium and put a roof on it for those kind of dollars.” In reality, those losses will repeat, and escalate every year until the lands are recovered, for the flood victims, the regional economy and the provincial tax base.
All future flooding of the Quill Lakes are almost entirely avoidable, as proven by the studies already provided by consultants on this issue. This is now a choice… flooding for everyone is not necessary. A controlled release will protect downstream property owners as much as it will the Quill Lakes.
Who will be responsible for future losses from this decision?
Will the people along the Last Mountain Lake-Qu’Appelle chain and the province of Manitoba, pay for the costs of this dam, and all of the economic losses that accrues?
If it’s a federal decision, will the federal government pay? Or will the Saskatchewan taxpayers be hung out to dry? 
The cost of this dam project is too much — for everyone.
Kerry Holderness, chair of the Quill Lakes Flood Victims Organization
Jason Friesen, chair of the Quill Lakes Flood Impact Organization

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