The impending water crisis has prompted a dreaded state of emergency in the northern township of Cumberland House. The residents fear a severe shortage of potable water, as the community’s reservoir lacks sufficient water stocks for the approaching winter. The current water supply is predicted to deplete in the forthcoming four weeks.
As a crucial source of clean drinking water, the rapid depletion of the reservoir jeopardizes the health, safety and livelihood of the Cumberland House community. A joint statement from the community’s key stakeholders, including the Village of Cumberland House, Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S), and the Cumberland House Cree Nation, echoed these concerns.
The parties attribute the crisis to the regional fall in water levels, resultant from hydroelectric development, irrigation practices, and deficient provincial water-management strategies. Mayor Veronica Favel sternly categorized the debacle as the outcome of absolute negligence on the part of SaskPower, Water Security Agency, and the Saskatchewan government. “Our municipality no longer has access to freshwater. Consequently, our wildlife and traditional medicines are at risk and the sustainable impact of this is felt continuously,” added Favel.
Aiming to mitigate the impending crisis, several provincial ministries and agencies have teamed up with the northern village. The short-term solution initiates an enhanced pumping capacity, expected to replenish the reservoir by the weekend with three months’ water storage. A pursuit for additional water sources to serve the community beyond Spring 2024 is also ongoing.
Cumberland House, a delta for the Saskatchewan Rivers that culminate into Cumberland Lake, is crucial to North America’s largest freshwater inland delta. Chief Rene Chaboyer of Cumberland House Cree Nation underscored the importance of the area’s health to both local and global ecosystems.
The drop in water levels has inhibited inhabitants from traversing the delta to hunt, fish, trap, or collect medicines, thereby threatening their cultural identity and ancient way of life. Ryan Carriere, MN-S regional director, stressed the mounting concerns.
Adding to the spectrum of issues is the cessation of water flow from the Big Stone River into the delta. Community representatives lay the blame on water diversions across the entire river system, pointing towards the E.B. Campbell Dam—a hydroelectric power station built in 1963 and creator of Tobin Lake—as the proximate culprit. They claim that the dam operations disrupt the delta’s natural water cycles, depriving the region’s plants and animals of vital nutrients and moisture.
Buoyed by facts, the provincial government contested the claims, asserting that the year 2023 witnessed historically low water levels due to reduced precipitation and low mountain run-off, rather than the E.B. Campbell Dam influencing diminished water flows into the delta.