January 17, 2005

Sask discussion paper initiates consultation on water conservation plan

Saskatchewan has become the latest province to begin developing a "home-grown" water conservation plan designed to respond to its own particular needs and conditions. As the initial step in the process, Watershed Authority Minister David Forbes and SaskWater Minister Peter Prebble last week released a discussion paper, Conserving Our Water-A Water Conservation Plan for Saskatchewan. The government will also be holding a series of five public consultation meetings between January 31 and February 10 in Regina, Swift Current, Saskatoon, Prince Albert and La Ronge. Comments will also be accepted by mail or on-line.

"While Saskatchewan has large supplies of water in the north, the majority of citizens and industry are in the south," Prebble said. "Forty-five percent of the Saskatchewan population depends on water from Lake Diefenbaker in the Saskatchewan River system. Over the last century, records indicate that flows in this system have declined due to increased withdrawals and changes in our environment, yet our demand for our water has continued to increase. The public consultations we are announcing today will give the people of Saskatchewan input into developing policies that will ensure best use and the most efficient use of our water and the long term protection of our water supplies."

The paper summarizes Saskatchewan's main water supply sources and outlines trends in water use, allocations and availability. Of the province's 11 main watesheds, the Saskatchewan River system and the Boreal Shield are the only ones historically considered to have relatively abundant supplies of fresh water. Yet even these have been vulnerable to drought in recent years, notes the paper.

Transboundary issues and climate change have important implications for the province's water resources, over and above increasing internal demands. For example, decreases in the available water supply from the Saskatchewan River basins (both north and south, shared with Alberta) have resulted from increased water demand in Alberta (although interprovincial agreements require Alberta to ensure that at least 50% of the river's natural flow runs into Saskatchewan). A similar term in the Boundary Waters Treaty requires Saskatchewan to pass half the natural flow it receives from rivers running south into the U.S. on to its neighbour.

Long-term projections concerning the impacts of climate change on Saskatchewan's water supplies suggest further declines in availability due to increased evaporation rates. This, together with the increasing demand in Alberta, will affect how Saskatchewan manages water in the Saskatchewan River basins.

Agriculture and community use together account for approximately 90% of fresh water consumption in Saskatchewan, with industry, mining, thermal power and oil and gas making up the remainder. For each sector, the paper outlines current use and demand patterns and presents potential sector-specific conservation initiatives, as well as initiatives applicable to multiple sectors. It also sets out the overall principles which will guide the development of a comprehensive water conservation plan for the province. Among these are: water as a finite, although renewable, resource; water as a public trust, a shared legacy and a collective responsibility; conservation as the underlying principle for water efficiency and productivity; fair value for water; and a comprehensive, long-term and integrated approach to conservation.

A final water conservation plan for Saskatchewan, incorporating public input from the consultation, will be prepared for the end of 2005. The Conserving Our Water discussion paper may be requested by calling the provincial water inquiry line (1-866-SASK-H20 (1-866-727-5420)), or may be viewed on-line at www.swa.ca/waterconservation More Information is also available from Dale Hjertaas at the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority, 306/787-2892.

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