Common Ground: Solving “The Quill Lakes Flood Problem…”

In the search for a solution to the water issues in the Quill Lakes Watershed, there are common overall concerns, regardless of the stakeholders throughout the chain. The stakeholders include communities, businesses, and all levels of government (rural and urban municipal, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and National governments including both Canada and the US): all of which are seeking management solutions for extreme unprecedented water conditions. Manitoba’s spring forecast doesn’t look good.

The economy, the environment, and the protection of public and private property are in everyone’s common interest. The economy is already severely impacted due to wet conditions, hampering all levels of infrastructure and the agriculture sector. Every citizen wants to find a way to get rid of excess water to avoid property damage: that’s why buildings have eavestroughs, and streets have storm drains.

The Quill Lakes, the largest saline lake in Canada, was once considered a dead-end lake not capable of overflow. With a 7 meter rise in just 12 years and about .55 meters to go, it is now threatening to exceed its banks for the first time in recorded history. The wet cycle we are in has been predicted to last another 10-25 years. Rising waters are likely to continue.

Environmentally, higher concentrations of saline water are considered undesirable to most. At the Quill Lakes, flooding with saline water of public and private lands has, and will continue to create long-term losses and extensive recovery times. Solutions to hold water back upstream to evaporate more water and restore wetlands are seen as “not enough” to guarantee the flooding will stop during long, multiyear events like we are in now. The main downstream environmental concerns are about water quality: for their water consumption and water treatment plants, the resort and fishing recreation industry, and subsistence fishing for First Nations. Concerns have been expressed from as far away as Lake Winnipeg.

No one wants flooding. As important as the prevention of our own individual flooding concerns in agriculture are, all people downstream are sensitive to changes in volumes of water, regardless of where you live. Nobody wants a solution for the Quill Lakes that will make things worse for others. This is a consensus starting at the Quills and echoed all the way through nearby municipalities, through Last Mountain Lake, the Qu’Appelle system, and the Assiniboine River and Red River systems in Manitoba.

Taking all of this into consideration, and with considerable preliminary research and consultation, the Quill Lakes Watershed Association Board has developed a two-stage solution that could meet the needs of the majority of stakeholders:

1. The separation and temporary storage of up to 33% of the freshwater runoff from the Quill Lakes is possible: a managed release of that water downstream, only if and when there is room in their systems. This proposal also has a back-door release mechanism, back to the Quill Lakes (where it would normally go) if storage capacity cannot handle all of the fresh water collected.

2. Also, new information is being explored in disposing of saline water into an appropriate aquifer. This may look after the salinity issue for people downstream: removing water from Big Quill Lake into an underground system of similar water quality, reducing the environmental risk for all involved. Both of these solutions have the potential to provide the Quill Lakes with adequate relief so that the natural lake evaporation can keep up, and even reduce lake levels enough to provide a safety margin for extreme events.

Both solutions are being considered to be developed as a contingency if one or the other cannot keep up, or runs into other temporary or permanent issues. There is just no time to rely on just one solution.

These two projects could alleviate most of the concerns of downstream stakeholders. At the Quill Lakes level, it is projected that a halt in the rise of the lakes could be accomplished. This could allow evaporation to make room for future high rain and runoff events and prevent further loss to private and public lands and infrastructure. For the upland areas around the lakes that are being asked to store excess fresh water on private lands, this could restore more traditional water management practices, with new safeguards, and in turn a stabilization of the whole economy of the 2.1-million-acre region.

A managed solution for the Quill Lakes would not only protect the downstream interests from the unwanted saline overflow, it could save millions in infrastructure restoration costs, as the highways and railway systems around the lakes are facing significant upgrades if waters continue to rise. These costs, if spent on prevention, may prove to be the most frugal investment possible. In short, a release of the right kind of water, at the right time, in the right place could meet the needs of all involved, and protect every level of the environment and the economy along the way.

Time is running short: the window to accomplish this solution, and to achieve the greatest savings, gets smaller with each rise in water.

Kerry Holderness, Chair, The Quill Lakes Watershed Association Board #14

Common Ground Resources and Information

AG H2Onward Workshop

If you are considering an agricultural drainage project that will strengthen yoru farming operations by making you more productive and sustainable? AG H2Onward can help. More information on this workshop and other free online workshops brought to you by the...

read more

Report Puts a Number on Saskatchewan Lake Flooding

The following article was written By Brian Cross and published by the Western Producer in regards to the  Economic Impacts of Quill Lakes Flooding 2012-2108, commissioned by the Quill Lakes Watershed Association. The article summarizes the findings of the report, as...

read more

Economic Impacts of Quill Lakes Flooding (2012-2018)

The Quill Lakes Watershed Association commissioned Dr. James Warren, from the University of Regina to complete a study assessing the economic impacts associated with the Quill Lakes flooding crisis. The principal findings of the economic impact study are provided...

read more

The Cause of the Quill Lakes Flood

Many have been lead to believe that the flooding of the Quill Lakes has been caused by agricultural activities. However, weather-related history, recorded lake inflows, and lake level recordings show a different story. This data analysis illustrates the root cause to the flooding.

read more

The Truth About Phase One

Quill Lakes Watershed Association Flood Mitigation Strategy The Quill Lakes Watershed Association has been working closely with the WSA to ensure we follow proper protocol with our unique problem and our potential solution. The Quill Lakes are filling up at...

read more