Agriculture Climate Solutions
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Living Lab Project to sink GHGs and improve water quality in the Lake Winnipeg Basin
WT Interview with Pasqua First Nation Land Branch, Lower Qu’Appelle Watershed Stewards. The transcription below has been edited for clarity and length
Photo Credit: Cathie Johns-Wick-Pasqua Lake
WT: I would like to welcome Anita Delorme and Candace Carter, from the Land Management Branch of the Pasqua First Nation and Alice Davis from Lower Qu’Appelle Watershed Stewards, thanks for doing this.
Alice, this question is directed at you. I understand that you have applied to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Ag Climate Solutions program for a Living Lab project in your watershed. Can you give my viewers a sense of why you applied, and what you hope for as a result?
Alice Davis: We applied because one of the components in this (federal) strategy is water quality, which is a real concern here, and all the way to Lake Winnipeg. Keep in mind that First Nations are all along the Lower Qu’Appelle River and a lot of the land is farmed or leased to farmers.
We initiated this Living Lab project to improve our water quality, seeing that agricultural soil can be a natural carbon sink, and there is a new generation of farmers willing to adapt management practises. In our project, we have a plan to test several producer-developed best management practises that sequester more carbon than is currently captured through no-till farming alone.
WT: This next question is for Anita and Candace. What is Pasqua First Nation’s relationship to the LQWS and why have you thrown in with this project application?
Anita Delorme: Being that Alice is our point of contact for the (Lower Q’Appelle) watershed, we have a relationship there. When matters affecting the watershed come up, it always involves us, because our reserve lands are right along the lake, the south shore (Pasqua Lake).
For us, it’s the problems we have been having with blue-green algae, and
the pollution in the lake also needs to be addressed. Right now, our Chief is involved in another project involving farm practices that may affect the water. We don’t know because we haven’t tested for it. This is where Alice comes in, we need to coordinate with the rest of the watershed.
WT: You mentioned a blue green outbreak, what was it like to experience that? When did you figure out it was blue green algae?
Anita Delorme: Usually in the winter the problem should taper off, but last winter, we still don’t know what it was, but there was a break in the ice and blue water came out. Candace, do you remember?
Candace Carter: I believe it was ice fishers, drilled a hole and discoloured water came up. It was alarming, so it was reported. That it is showing up during the winter now, this may be linked to how bad it is in the summer.
WT: Is it considerably worse in spring and summer?
Carter: Usually, yes, from the way it looks.
See Saskatchewan Water Security press release on Pasqua Lake blue water formations
WT: We have a national Water Agency, we have a federal Ag department, usually people don’t see the link between soil and water. Why are there so many water questions around this AAFC initiative, when it is primarily aimed at carbon sequestration in agriculture soil? How much does the watershed have to do with agriculture practises?
Davis: Over the last decade our water quality has decreased immensely. We have a lab at University of Regina that does continuous monitoring of water quality through the watershed. They study where excess nutrients could be coming from. The University of Saskatchewan wrote a paper a few years ago, looking into agriculture as a source of the excess nutrients in the water. I was also doing a report at the time on wastewater leaks and release from wastewater lagoons. We found there was not a lot of nutrients coming from the lagoon release or the private septic tanks. We have the City of Regina upstream, the upgraded wastewater treatment plant did make a difference. Agriculture runoff is likely the main source of excess nutrients in the watershed now.
The management practices we need for more carbon sequestration are also key to downstream water quality, so we are looking to measure the changing soil carbon levels and the water quality changes that come about from changing the agriculture management practices.
WT: Ministers of the federal departments always have a reason why their funding programs and research are important. We want to understand how this Living Lab project will be important for you and your community?
Delorme: The reason I think it is so important, is to find out what is it that we are doing that may be contributing to possibly, I hate to say this, but to contamination of our water.
I know, everyone is aware the City of Regina dumps a lot of their sewage through the water chain that eventually comes into (Pasqua) Lake, but is there something we can do differently that will help?
Carter: This project is for understanding the land, our relationship to the land, taking care of the land. This is what I do for the Nation, I am a proud Pasqua band member. We have a lot of agricultural land.
How this affects us personally? Taking our kids to the beach in summer! We decided last summer we just cannot take our children down there, there is algae, there are hundreds of dead fish. We have to move our BBQ’s up away from the beach. We haven’t had a good beach day in a long time. That is hard for us, we are proud of our beach here, our Nation is right on the lake.
Understanding that agriculture is part of this, that everything that happens up on the land trickles down to our lake, we have to study the effects.
WT: Alice, what do you think of the process to apply for this fund? Was it a pretty successful endeavour, was it easy to do, was there enough information around it? Give us a sense of what it is like to apply for this kind of money?
Davis: We had the idea in the back of our minds for quite a while. We don’t really have the support of our provincial government (SK) for changing anything in agriculture. We also do not have the data to see if a project like this works. So, applying for this project was fairly easy to do, it was pretty close to what we need, and what we want to make happen. The project was for ten million, we applied for eight.
When you look at where the dollars need to go and what we need to do, eight million is not enough over five years. We will include a substantial amount of agriculture land area in the project, and ensure that the data is collected, that the results will be used, and that it will be transmitted to the province to saying, “this change was a success”, or “this change in BMPs can make a difference to freshwater sources”, if that proves out.
Our freshwater sources are not only for recreation, they are also for mining, for groundwater, drinking water wells. We have to protect that groundwater source.
I don’t think our province is doing enough to protect that, and we need to show concrete evidence whether changing farming practices will make a difference here.
WT: One thing I get as a reporter is a lot of sources say “we are looking at this lagoon…” or “…that drinking water plant, or that wastewater plant” because someone else is doing something wrong. I want to commend you for saying “let’s look at ourselves”. What is your message, given that you have blue green algae and dead fish, given you haven’t been able to enjoy your beach, what would you recommend to other First Nations in similar circumstances?
Delorme: I think we have reached a point now where we need to start looking at preventative measures. In order to be successful moving forward, to bring these (nutrient) numbers down, in taking care of the water quality, we have to start taking matters into our own hands, we have to take measures to protect our water ourselves. This project allows us to move forward and make improvements.
Hopefully this summer we will start soil testing, depending on the timeline and funding. The sooner that we start, the sooner we will have a better idea of how we are doing, as far as best practices, what are we going to do with our lands in the future, to prevent any more damage from taking place.
It’s not just the (surface) water that is damaged, it’s outside forces like us impacting the groundwater. I give the example from ten years ago, our (drinking) water wells were contaminated by the formaldehyde leaching from a graveyard.
We need to be testing the soil and water to see if we ourselves are causing some of it. With a project like this, we will have done something to make it better.
WT: Is there a message you have for Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Madame Bibeau?
Davis: I would strongly encourage that this Saskatchewan watershed be included in the Living Labs initiative, as we have so much agricultural land area. We know that downstream Lake Winnipeg is extremely contaminated. We know that Canada has failed on communication between the departments (AAFC and ECCC), and between the provinces and feds, and so we want to make that change here in working closer together in our watershed area. We really want to show our Province that changing BMPs in agriculture can make a difference to our water sources.
We have over two million acres of crop land here, and 226 thousand acres of pasture supporting almost 200 thousand cattle. We are a huge agriculture area; we have to be doing our best to protect the water from agriculture sources.
So, we need to collect data. We need to wake up our province with the data we will collect, if we are successful with our application. It can’t get any better than that. We just need the funds to do it. That’s all. We will do our very best to ensure that the data gets out to the people that need to see it and make the best changes across the board from there.
WT: I will leave it there, thanks to each of you for doing this, I appreciate it.