Watershed work still ongoing for group

The Swift Current Creek flows over the historic and recently renovated CPR weir in Swift Current.

The Swift Current Creek Watershed Stewards (SCCWS) continued with various projects during 2020, even though the COVID-19 pandemic made their task more complicated.

The activities of the SCCWS during the past year were highlighted during the organization’s annual general meeting, which was held virtually on March 4 due to pandemic protocols.

SCCWS Chairperson Darren Fidler said during the presentation of his report that it has been a challenging year, but the board and staff members Kevin Steinley (executive director) and Dallas Peters (agri-environmental technician) continued to meet the demands of the watershed.

“Even during a pandemic, the creek continues to flow and the issues of the watershed continue to face us,” he noted. “While challenging, we do have to be more creative in how we deal with these issues. The board and dedicated staff of Kevin and Dallas have been trying to get the work done, despite the hurdles and obstacles dropped in our path. While working from home or zoom meetings, conference calls and the occasional in-person, socially distanced meeting, the watershed has continued to strive to meet our mission statement.”

The SCCWS office has been closed since March 2020 due to COVID-19 protocols and both staff members are working from home. Steinley said during the presentation of his report the lack of in-person meetings made it more challenging to connect with stakeholders.

“That in-person touch is something that we miss during these times and the ability to network that way,” he mentioned. “We try to engage our stakeholders through new methods such as our monthly electronic newsletters, maybe an increased presence on social media, and we did redesign our website to be a bit more user-friendly and more friendly across different devices, especially phones and tablets, and I think we achieved that.”

He felt they have been able to continue with business as close to normal as possible after making the adjustments to the new pandemic situation.

“Off the start it was a little tough to figure out what was going on, but everybody has learned to deal with it and how to do business,” he said. “Some things it's better and some things it's worse, but we've been able to learn from it and work through it. It's probably going to be a while that we're continuing to work from home. So we'll just continue our projects through the spring and summer, and based on the health guidelines that are in place.”

Peters spoke about her activities in providing agri-environmental technical services in the watershed under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP), which is a five-year federal, provincial and territorial funding investment in agriculture to improve and maintain the environment and to develop water sources in a sustainable manner.

The pandemic means workshops, face-to-face meetings and events, and on-farm producer calls cannot take place, but CAP applications are still received and processed.

“The Farm and Ranch Water Infrastructure Program (FRWIP) saw the biggest loss in uptake,” she said. “The Farm Stewardship Program held fairly steady. So our problem was getting the information out, with not being able to hold workshops or get out and do face-to-face meetings.”

They therefore developed alternative ways to disseminate information about programs to producers and it worked well.

 “We send out letters to local contractors so that they know of our services, and I dropped in at a few businesses just to drop off business cards and information if anyone had questions or if anyone was asking about it,” she said. “Then our last big push for a promotion is we send out a mail-out just recently and that got us quite a few calls. So it went very well.”

Virtual meetings became another option to connect with producers. There were two successful webinars that were done in collaboration with other agri-environmental technical services groups in the south region to maximize the reach of these presentations, which were about tame forage seeding and the FRWIP.

Steinley spoke about the different projects carried out by the SCCWS during the past year. The SCCWS participated in a project to test phosphorous in Saskatchewan rivers.

“This project is to try and determine the origin of phosphorous in the water flowing into the Lake Winnipeg basin via the Saskatchewan River,” he explained. “Lake Winnipeg has issues with high levels of nutrients causing large algae blooms and this program looks to try and mitigate those impacts.”

The SCCWS sampled nine times at five locations throughout the watershed and tabulated the results. It showed the same pattern of phosphorous concentration in the creek as seen during the 2017 monitoring project. The phosphorous levels were low at sites upstream of Duncairn Dam, it increased from the dam to Swift Current, and was low after Swift Current. The sampling will continue this spring to finalize the project.

The SCCWS carried out a monitoring program for zebra mussels during 2020, but no adult mussels or veligers, the larval stage of the zebra mussels, were detected in any of the water bodies that were sampled.

“In the past we've been able to either get out at Market Square at Swift Current or places at Lac Pelletier or Duncairn at events to highlight this aquatic invasive species and the steps people should take to stop their spread,” he said. “Obviously that was not possible. So we hope to continue monitoring again in 2021 and get out to events and try and engage people.”

The last full year of the Herbert water use plan and water conservation education initiative took place in 2020 and this project will still continue until about July 2021.

“We continued to take water samples in the water bodies of the system that supply water to the town of Herbert,” he said. “The results of the year's testing confirm the results seen in prior years. Water quality is generally good, but there's still high levels of algae within the system that has caused issues with reverse osmosis system at their water treatment plant.”

The Froghoppers program had been successfully engaging youth for about 15 years to learn more about the watershed, but the pandemic meant it could not continue in its regular format of school visits.

“We still were able to give eight presentations in the parks play program in Swift Current and also one presentation at Lac Pelletier Regional Park,” he said.

The SCCWS also partnered with the Moose Jaw River Watershed Stewards to hire an intern, who revised the curriculum of the Froghoppers program during 2020. The new curriculum will be used when school visits are allowed in the future, and in the meantime the SCCWS will look at alternative ways to get the message out about watershed stewardship.

There is an exciting new opportunity to do this through the development of watershed education kits. The SCCWS is collaborating with adjacent watershed groups on this project, for which planning meetings started in December. There will be three themed education kits that will be offered to teachers, schools, camps, recreational groups and homeschoolers to educate youth about watersheds.

“I think it's a really good idea, especially now during COVID when we're not able to be in there,” he said. “We can provide information in an interactive sort of way, because there's games and different activities in there for the students that we can provide to them to keep them engaged.”

The SCCWS hosted a successful invasive weed walk along the creek in Swift Current last summer to educate urban residents about invasive weeds.

The SCCWS completed its future directions report last year, but the pandemic made it difficult to engage stakeholders about this publication. The SCCWS participated in a project located in the watershed to demonstrate the different ways of irrigating and producing hemp.

Steinley also spoke about the new constructed wetland project that was approved for grant funding in August 2020 to evaluate if natural processes can be used to improve the quality of excess irrigation water before it drains into the creek. This project will get underway during 2021.

For more information about the SCCWS and its different projects, visit the organization’s website at www.sccws.com

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