The future of Regina’s water
BY NATASCIA LYPNY, THE LEADER-POST SEPTEMBER 3, 2015
Video Has Been Removed
REGINA — It’s not a request the City of Regina took lightly.
On May 25, director of waterworks Pat Wilson announced the municipality needed residents to conserve water.
People soon were asked to cut 25 per cent of their usage, as over the next three weeks the city grappled with a processing issue not faced by the Buffalo Pound Water Treatment Plant in its 60-year history.
Regina’s blip caused residents to question the quality of the water the plant receives, its ability to treat water and, contemplating the region’s projected growth residentially and industrially, whether the municipality had enough water into the future.
“Water is a precious resource. We have to be careful with that,” said Mayor Michael Fougere in an interview earlier this summer.
But he reassured us that, “At this point, there is no concern about the quantity of water nor quality of water.”
The future of Regina’s water, though, is more complex than that.
The quality of Buffalo Pound Lake has been deteriorating since 2011.
Shallow and rich with nutrients, the lake is a natural breeding ground for algae and weeds. These cause treatment problems, and undesirable taste and odour.
These aren’t new conditions. Peter Leavitt, a University of Regina professor, has found through sediment testing that the lake has been plagued by such issues since at least the 1800s and has been in worse (and better) states in the past.
Treatment plant operators chalk up the more recent deterioration to flooding of the Moose Jaw River into Buffalo Pound on four occasions in as many years.
That water is high in organic material, meaning treatment to reduce taste and odour issues has been jacked up. The plant is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars more on chemical treatments as a result.
“Right now, we don’t see that changing,” said plant manager Ryan Johnson.
High water levels also mean the Water Security Agency (WSA) is diverting less of the higher-quality water from Lake Diefenbaker to Buffalo Pound than before.
When it comes to Regina’s drinking water, Buffalo Pound can’t be examined in isolation. It receives little rain or run-off, being fed almost entirely by Lake Diefenbaker to the northwest. Lake Diefenbaker is considered “the most important source of water in Saskatchewan,” according to a WSA document, providing water to 60 per cent of the province’s population.
“Lake Diefenbaker is really the key to the water supply and quality we do have here,” said WSA spokesman Patrick Boyle.
The plant has discussed with the WSA increasing diversions to, in Johnson’s words, “flush” Buffalo Pound with Lake Diefenbaker water for quality improvement. No luck, except for a minor diversion during the plant’s treatment issues in May and June.
At current diversion rates, the water can sit in Buffalo Pound for up to 30 months.
Still, the plant met all safe drinking water criteria in 2014.
Is there enough?
During the water conservation period, the city repeatedly insisted it was not facing a quantity issue; rather, a processing one. That’s true.
Saskatchewan has agreements with Alberta that require a certain amount of water be passed downstream. It also sets out water-quality objectives at provincial borders.