Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Quill Lakes Flood and why is it different?

  • Normal floods come and go in a few days, are generally rare events, and people and governments begin the rebuilding process, and plans are made to see if it can be prevented from happening again. On agricultural lands, the flooded areas may get a one-year loss, and next year you start over.
  • The Quill Lakes Flood started as just a couple of wet years starting in 2005. They have continued to rise, for the last 13 years.  First, the majority of private and crown forage and pasture systems, around the lakes submerged, (56,000 acres), and kept rising to flood private ag lands to an additional (approximate loss of use) 40,000 acres by spring of 2017.   Considered as a result of climate change (or long-term cycle).  There are another 40,000+ acres at risk, and costs to repair public and private infrastructure compounding as the water rises.
  • If the flood is allowed to continue, the Quill Lakes could spill over into a long chain of developed lakes and river complexes in the Last Mountain Lake, Qu’Appelle River, and into Manitoba including the Assiniboia and Red River system.
  • From 2005 to 2017, the lakes have risen almost 7 meters. There has been a new record high water level each year since 2011 when we passed the last record set in 1914.  The average rise in the lakes has been over a half meter per year since 2005.  The extreme rises in the lakes happened mostly in just 5 of those years. (2006-2007,  2010-2011, 2014.)  In the spring of 2017 overflow was just a half meter away from the spring peak.


Who is affected by the Quill Lakes Flood?

  • The flood is affecting the economy, the environment, and personal and public property and infrastructure. Costs can be related to flooded lands as well as extra costs related to extreme moisture conditions for multiple consecutive years.
  • The first affected were the livestock, and recreation sectors affecting both ag and tourism.
  • The wet conditions affected all of the grain sectors cost of production,
  • It has affected homes, 100-year-old yard-sites, and businesses.
  • It affected municipal infrastructure, including intercommunity transportation routes of labor and market access to goods and services. Access to properties, and flood events added millions to disaster program expenditures.
  • It affects lending institutions, local and provincial economic losses, and retirement options.

What is the Economic Cost of the Flood so far?

An economic estimate was prepared by the Watershed Association on crop production losses alone… the losses to the economy is estimated in the hundreds of millions.

  • 2016 estimated $43,518,384. In 2017 at over $50,000,000.
  • Losses average $500,000 annually per each centimeter
  • Losses average an estimated $324 per acre annually, at farm gate.

Note: This may not include the ongoing losses to provincial and private business (highways, traffic disruptions, railways, Provincial Disaster Assistance Programs etc.)

What is the projected Cost if something isn’t done?

  • At peak water levels $112,752,000 estimated annually in crops alone from the provincial economy.
  • Losses will repeat annually until water returns to normal levels, and the productivity of the lands be restored. Depending on the length of the Wet Cycle, this could mean for decades…
  • This does not include provincial expenditures on highways and infrastructure, railways etc.

If allowed to go unchecked, and no mitigation measures are put in place, the disaster could over time become one of the biggest economic disasters due to flood in Canada’s History.  Losses in billions over decades.

What are the Environmental Concerns of the flood?

  • Loss of habitat and productivity in agricultural lands, both in crop and rangeland.
    • The recovery ability of native prairie.
  • The Quill Lakes is (was) one of the most recognized areas in Canada for its biodiversity and threatened or endangered species,
    • It is a RAMSAR site (convention on Wetlands of International Importance, 1971)
    • Canada’s second WHSRN (Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network) 1985
    • Saskatchewan’s first Important Bird Area (Global designation)
    • Vast areas of native prairie, both in and out of managed pasture systems
    • Hosting nesting sites for 25% of Canada’s Piping Plover or 7% of the world population.

Most of these globally important areas are completely submerged!

  • The concerns of people downstream from an uncontrolled Over Flow of the Quill Lakes is with water quality, water quantity, and protection of property. (Note: If proper mitigation measures can be put in place, in time, most of the downstream concerns can be addressed.)

Why are the Quill Lakes salty?

  • The Big Quill portion of the system is… was considered a dead-end lake.
  • All rainwater and snowmelt collect naturally occurring salts/minerals, and organic matter as it interacts with the earth’s surface.
  • When water is not able to flow through to a river system, and to an ocean, the only outlet for a buildup of water… is through evaporation, or uptake into plants
  • When evaporation happens, it leaves the collected salts behind. The salts remain in place until an extreme event causes them to migrate, due to spillage, due to flooding.
  • When water is taken up through harvestable plants, the water and many of the salts are utilized and turned into edible crops or meat, for human consumption.
  • If evaporation alone happens over many decades or even centuries the salts build up in the remaining water.

Note: there are mineral extractions taking place on the Quills and in other locations in the province, harvesting valuable fertilizers from lake water, when and where concentrations make it profitable.

What is TDS?

  • All water has a measurement of Total Dissolved Solids, which can determine the “saltiness” of water. All water both surface or from underground contains TDS.
  • TDS fluctuates in all water, TDS goes down in water bodies if rain or snow melt is added and flushed through, and TDS goes up if the water is trapped and evaporates.
  • Many TDS salts are useable by plants (nitrates, phosphorous, magnesium, sulfates etc.) in proper proportions, and can be removed in harvestable crops or forage, and turned into food.
  • When Higher TDS water is mixed with a lot of fresh water, like in the wet cycle and flooding in the Quill Lakes, TDS concentration drops over time.
  • When waters are continuously held back to evaporate, the water can overload with TDS and cause salinity losses in soils, vegetation losses in wetlands, and eventually unusable water for most purposes.
  • Water bodies that experience frequent or annual flow through of runoff water generally do not have buildups of TDS.

What is causing the Quill Lakes Flood?

  • Many people originally thought that agricultural drainage is the largest cause of flooding. The science is showing that this isn’t the case.
  • In the history of agriculture, since European settlement, agricultural drainage has not caused the lakes to overflow. Only since the extended wet cycle started in 2005 have the lakes marked rapid and continuous rises in water elevation at this unprecedented rate.
  • A combination of too much rain, too close together, and for too many consecutive years causes a number of things to happen:
    • The subsoil builds up moisture over time, with more rain than can be used by crops and plants, and even after a large crop year, the land can be saturated by fall rains. This leads to above average spring runoff due to having no room to soak in.
    • With a saturated landscape, there is often increased humidity, slowing the drying effect of winds and evaporation, and transpiration of plants.
    • Existing wetlands, can even rapidly expand and for a time flooding out existing foliage, trees and cattails around its borders.
  • Both of the Flood Mitigation studies commissioned by Water Security agency refer to agricultural drainage during extreme weather cycles that we are in today, have little effect on overall flooding. Even if every drainage ditch ever constructed by farmers were to be filled in, the first heavy rain would fill the wetlands to overflow, and the next rain would come to the lakes.  The overall storage capacity on the landscape does not come close to the volume of water that has filled the Lakes.
  • Even though there would be some relief of waters getting to the lakes, the Quills would still be rising. The ramifications of increasing upland storage to the regions agricultural economy would be devastating during these wet conditions.

The cause of the flooding is too much rain,

and the landscape cannot handle it.

What is the Watershed Associations Role in dealing with this flood?

Extreme rain events are happening throughout Canada and the world.  It is suggested that is a result of climate change, climate shift, or natural long-term cycles.  It could be natural, man-made, or a combination of both.   It could be short-lived, it could be long term, it could be “The New Normal”.

Our Job as a Watershed is to do our best to deal with the situation. 

  • Our job is:
    • To protect or minimize damage to Land and Water Resources for the short, medium and long-term.
    • Our Job is to adapt.
    • To protect the economic and environmental interests and protection of public and private property.