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Water Today Title November 24, 2017

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The small community of Roche Percee in Southeast Saskatchewan has been dealt the kind of deck that gives real poignancy to the phrase "when it rains, it pours".

Its been a full year since a flood devastated the small town, and as the local administrator Lyndon Stachoski says, "its tough to tell the residents who want to come home to wait another week or two weeks or a month…its really hard to do that and remain positive and hopeful." That's the reality as the town awaits provincial approval for a restoration proposal that would see the flood-ravaged town overhauled.

Local officials are saying that delays from the province almost seem habitual. The community has been trying for 8 years to get provincial funding for a water system upgrade. But as a small community of about 200 people, Deputy Mayor Sharon Wells says "the big city's get it and they say to the small ones 'your application has not been approved'."

Then, last year a flood came out of nowhere to destroy half the town's homes, taking away roughly a third of the town's tax base and making drinking water provision even more challenging. The town's officials feel like they're caught in between the constituents in desperate need of action and a provincial government that holds the means to do it, but has yet to make it happen.

The community has been under a Boil Water Advisory (BWA) for about a year due to turbidity or cloudiness in the water. Just last week, a mechanical glitch with the local system's chlorine pump caused a Do Not Drink advisory to be issued as the pump delivered excessive levels of chlorine into the drinking system.

Since then, the local water system has been re-balanced and Chlorine levels are back to normal conditions, but the BWA due to cloudiness continues to be in force.

According to the town's Deputy Mayor Sharon Wells and local administrator Lyndon Stachoski, the underlying cause for the BWA has yet to be determined. They suspect, however, that nearby fracking operations and recent expansion of oil and gas drilling near the town are to blame.

When it comes to getting the BWA lifted for Roche Percee, the Deputy Mayor said they know what needs to be done, but "we don't have $100,000 for [the] water treatment system upgrade" that would be required. The reason for that can largely be traced back to the 2011 flood.

The flood from last year wiped out half the town's homes, effectively cutting revenue for the community by about 30% due to the loss of their tax base. The area affected by flooding is now classified as a flood plane, meaning no one can rebuild there. Many residents have consequently given up and gone elsewhere as the town's efforts to negotiate a land exchange that would trade the flood-prone lands for higher ground continues to face delays. While the flooded area of the town is now designated as a flood-plane, it is reportedly the first flood of such magnitude in 100 years, caused by unusually concentrated rainfall in a broad area of the province last year.

The provincial disaster settlement for homeowners maxes out at around $240,000 for destroyed homes, with an average of $40,000 being deducted against the land that can no longer be built upon. Until the province approves the town's land-exchange proposal there is really nowhere to rebuild. Forced to stay with family or friends elsewhere, many residents just aren't coming back.

"15 of the 30 remaining homes have definitely moved on" said Deputy Mayor Wells, "two still really want to come back and the rest, I don't know".

Even if the proposal goes through, not everyone will be happy. For some residents the land exchange deal involves trading large lots in the flood area for smaller ones on higher ground. Some residents are caught between choosing to build in a flood plane where you simply cannot get your home insured, and trading out for what could be a net loss in both property size and value. Talking to people in and around the community, you really get the sense they're stuck between a rock and hard place.

In terms of moving on, the town has put forward a proposal to the provincial government that would see the community overhauled. "What we're working on is a full restoration to the village which includes an upgrade to the water treatment facility, a land-exchange so that homes can be relocated outside the floodplane, a relocation of the lagoon system and a new village office/recreation centre/hall multiplex" said Deputy Mayor Wells.

Reid Lillico is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Group, which has been hired by the town to handle their proposal. He said the progress is being made. They were able to get the final proposal submitted by July 15th and they have a meeting scheduled with the province for August, and they "hope to be able to give a report to Roche Percee around the 15th of August."

The Executive Director of Communications for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Government Relations could only say that they had received the town's proposal as of July 6th, "it is under consideration and we don't have a timeline for a response at this very early stage." But the Commonwealth Group is optimistic, with the President describing the proposal as "truly win-win for both the citizens of Roche Percee and the Province". He said that he feels there has been positive feedback from the province thus far.

Michel Ryan

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