PUTTING WATER FIRST: Protecting SK Waterways Top Priority

PUTTING WATER FIRST: Protecting SK Waterways Top Priority

Postby Oscar » Wed Aug 10, 2016 3:19 pm

PUTTING WATER FIRST: Protecting Saskatchewan’s Waterways Must Become Top Government Priority


The contamination of the North Saskatchewan River from 250,000 litres of heavy oil and chemicals from the rupture of Husky Oil’s pipeline near Maidstone clearly shows that Saskatchewan’s waterways are at risk from unfettered energy industry expansion. 80,000 people lost their primary source of domestic water. Residents lost their access to this rich recreational river-way. Treaty rights to access the lush river ecosystem have been breached. Biota, wildlife and environmental health will all suffer along this mighty, meandering river.


Attempts at mitigation have been seriously flawed. Warnings about the leak started on the evening of Wednesday July 20th, not the next morning, as first reported by Husky. What was the company doing during this unaccounted 14-hour period?

The berms failed to prevent the oil from entering the North Saskatchewan. Then river booms failed to stop most of the oil from going downstream, where it threatens the drinking water supply of North Battleford, Prince Albert and Melfort. This contamination spread 500 km, from one side of the province to the other. And it is nonsense for Husky to claim that 40% of the heavy oil has been cleaned up; we will be lucky if they get 5-10% recovery, the average for oil spills.

Prince Albert was forced to declare a state of emergency and passed a bylaw to compel water conservation; rural residents were completely cut off from their water supply. Muskoday First Nations, 15 KM south of Prince Albert, declared an emergency over water supply. The 30 KM overland pipeline from the South Saskatchewan River to Prince Albert’s water treatment plant is only a temporary measure and yet will cost in the millions. It is only a few months to freeze up.

Saskatchewan only has a few major waterways, on which most of the population depends. There is too much at risk having oil pipelines near or under our waterways. Why was this pipeline allowed to be built so close to the North Saskatchewan River?

The leak came from only 300 metres from the riverbank; many riverside municipal lagoons must be built further back than this.

And how many other pipelines exist along our vulnerable waterways? If the Energy East Pipeline is ever approved, what threats will it bring to the Qu’Appelle Watershed? We need answers!


Only interprovincial pipelines are federally regulated, the rest are provincial responsibility. Most are under-regulated or self-regulated. And multiple, overland pipelines are already doing serious damage to the land.

Over 8,000 industrial spills have occurred in Saskatchewan since 2006 and 17% of these were by Husky Oil, the largest oil producer in the province. Most simply go unreported in the media.

In 2012, the Auditor found the province “did not have effective processes to ensure full compliance” with pipeline legislation. It stated: “There are requirements under this legislation that are not being acted upon. Failure to regulate pipelines effectively could harm people or the environment”.

Its 2014 follow-up report found the province still had not implemented the most vital recommendations. It still hasn’t.


Even without Husky contaminating the North Saskatchewan, ongoing spills demonstrate the need to fully embrace a non-toxic energy system. A move to solar and wind-generated electricity will reduce threats to our waterways and to our water quality.

But until we make this full conversion away from fossil fuels, why is a heavy oil pipeline even allowed to be built where it can threaten a major waterway?


Premier Wall’s statement that pipelines are “the safest way” to transport oil was completely misplaced. It doesn’t matter whether one of our waterways is contaminated from a pipeline break or from a rail accident; our waterways and population need to be protected from both. It was not a good sign that for almost a week Wall remained quiet about Husky’s oil spill. This is one of Saskatchewan’s worst environmental disasters.

Things could get much worse: if a spill happened during winter freeze-up, there would be no technology available to even attempt a clean-up.


The North Saskatchewan River is not the only Saskatchewan waterway at great risk. The Qu’Appelle Watershed has endured ongoing releases of Regina’s untreated sewage and toxic agricultural run-off, and plans are now in the works to divert millions of cubic metres of surface water into upstream potash solution mines. This water will be permanently taken out of the hydrological cycle to the detriment of the long-term health of the watershed and future generations.

We must NOW “put water first”.

Saskatchewan has very few waterways and all need stringent protection. Yet in the 2016 budget there was a $2.7 million dollar cut to the Petroleum and Natural Gas Branch which is supposed to enforce the regulation of the oil industry. Meanwhile the province still can’t confirm when Husky’s ruptured pipeline was last inspected or whether Husky even had the required Emergency Plan in place. And we now learn that in 2014 Husky was given permission to build a pipeline under the North Saskatchewan River without any environmental assessment at all. This is totally unacceptable.

Also, the province is considering cutting funds to Saskatoon’s Meewasin Valley Authority, which maintains trails and habitat along the South Saskatchewan River. Rather than such cuts, the government should be rigorously investing in watershed protection, restoration and oversight. Many of the recommendations to protect the Qu’Appelle Valley watershed, made in the 1972 Qu’Appelle Implementation Board Study, still apply. They are even more urgent now, yet we still see no positive provincial action at all.

There are no longer any oversight agencies to ensure that the lakes, wetlands, landscape, habitats and water quality in any of Saskatchewan’s watersheds are being protected and restored. This must change.


Our watersheds and water quality must be protected. Industrial self-regulation and reactive municipal actions cannot accomplish this. It is time for the province to fundamentally rethink its policies to make watershed protection and restoration a top priority.

Let Husky Oil’s contamination of the North Saskatchewan be our wake-up call so that such environmental abuse is not allowed to become normalized. Clean water is already scarce on the prairies and with climate change it will become even scarcer. We must now “put water first”.

The Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA) was formed in early 2016 to protect and restore the Qu’Appelle watershed and landscape. During the April provincial election it sponsored the first ever all-candidates forum focusing on the environment. It has worked with opposition parties and area residents to raise awareness about the dangers from the proposed Chinese Yancoal potash solution mine upstream from the Qu’Appelle Valley. It is the watchdog on local governments in the valley when they do not follow environmental protection regulations. It is committed to work with other independent organizations protecting Saskatchewan watersheds.

The QVEA meets every second Wednesday of the month, alternating at 3 and 7 pm, at the Qu’Appelle Valley Centre for the Arts in Fort Qu’Appelle.

Jim Harding
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