A blue container with thousands of letters was delivered to the Saskatchewan Legislature Monday by the Saskatchewan Alliance for Water Sustainability (SAWS).
The letters contained comments and concerns from a wide-range of people about the provincial government’s Agricultural Water Stewardship Policy, which is in development and in a consultation period until the end of this year.
The feedback gathered was part of a letter-writing campaign launched by SAWS in early June, aimed at raising awareness of the Ag Water Stewardship Policy and calling on the Saskatchewan government to implement a wetland conservation policy, similar to what Alberta and Manitoba have in place.
A key question the Alliance asked during the campaign was “How will the new Ag Water Stewardship Policy improve water quality in this province?”
The goal was to acquire 2-thousand letters, but SAWS was able to receive 2,251 letters from business owners, cabin owners, outdoor enthusiasts, First Nations people, farmers, among others.
Here are 5 comments SAWS highlighted in their news release:
“I grew up in Saskatchewan and wetlands are critical for everyone in the Province.”
“We are so lucky to have so many bodies of water in our beautiful province, we need to protect those waters for the present and our future. Please work with the people of Saskatchewan and hear our concerns. Thank you!!!”
“If we destroy the environment, we eventually destroy ourselves.”
“These lakes are by my home. It would be so nice to have my grandchildren enjoy them but when they are
so green it’s not safe for them to swim in them.”
“I fish all these lakes year round and we can’t even eat the fish out of them, this is absolutely terrible not to mention my Family doesn’t even want to go in the water anymore to swim. Something needs to be fixed and fast.”
Speaking in front of the Legislature Monday morning, the Chair of SAWS, Aura Lee, says a lot of people thanked them for their work and the opportunity to share feedback.
“They were very sincere and I hope the Premier understands that there’s a great deal of concern of how we manage water,” Lee said. “We just read in the paper that with the (gender) pronoun policy it took 18 letters to convince a conversation, so we’re really hoping 23-hundred letters will provide the conversation that we need to have.”
In addition to a lack of a wetland conservation policy, the other critique SAWS had towards the province was the Water Security Agency’s enforcement towards illegal drainage projects.
Lane Mountney is a farmer in southeast Saskatchewan who was in Regina Monday with SAWS. He shared his frustrations with the Water Security Agency.
Mountney says a 28-quarter drainage project goes through a section of his land, and the only reason he is involved is because his quarter “is needed for the outlet end to handle that much water in the creek.”
“As the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency does not check beyond the outlet, they did not realize that same creek goes through our creek pasture, and that much water affects our well water, and the well is on high ground. Our well water gets contaminated during spring runoff and high moisture events and is unfit for human consumption at those times. And in 2022 the water turned yellow.
“My question to the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency is why are they not checking downstream for that large quantity of water? And why are they approving this? It is because they do not care about the Saskatchewan people’s quality of life downstream of their projects.” Mountney stated.
“This drainage project – the dominant drainers are draining seven wetlands over seven acres each, and there are 880 wetlands in this drainage project, according to the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency Drainage Project Wetland Summary Sheet.” he added.
Mountney also accused the Water Security Agency of “advertising on how good a job they’re doing with water quality, protecting downstream flooding and the environment to make them look good, when they are not doing what they say.”
The NDP Critic for the Water Security Agency Erika Ritchie was also present at the news conference. She took issue with the WSA’s complaint-based system of enforcement, saying it pits neighbour against neighbour.
“They narrow the scope down so far that they suggest that ‘well, you’re not affected so your views don’t matter’ – that is a highly questionable response. Landowners then become more frustrated and exasperated by the process, and then they get letters back that say to them ‘we don’t think you’re being respectful in your dialogue with us.’” Ritchie said. “These are people who are being directly affected by a policy that is working against their interest, and when they try to speak up, they are marginalized, they’re told to be quiet, that their views don’t matter and that ‘oh by the way, we don’t like your tone’, so it’s been incredibly frustrating and disrespectful for landowners when they bring those concerns, and I’ve heard those stories over and over again.”
SAWS expects a reply from the provincial government. The group also expects the province to have a wetland policy “regulated, enforced, and in place by the spring of 2024.”