Cumberland House declares state of emergency due to lack of water

Cumberland House along with the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan are declaring a state of emergency due to a lack of water in the community's reservoir for the upcoming winter. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tara Walton

A state of emergency has been called by the Village of Cumberland House with the support of the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) and the Cumberland House Cree Nation.

They say there is not enough water available to fill their community’s reservoir for the coming winter.

According to a release, Cumberland House officials and MN-S are engaging with the Water Security Agency, the Watershed Authority, SaskPower, the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency and Cumberland House Cree Nation to find a solution to this systemic issue.

“The reservoir is the only source of clean drinking water for the Cumberland House community,” the release read. “The community currently only has sufficient water to last 4 weeks. Losing this resource will jeopardize the health and safety of the community and people.”

The acting mayor of Cumberland House stated this ongoing situation is a result of complete negligence from SaskPower, the Water Security Agency and the Saskatchewan government.

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“Along with the Municipality not having access to freshwater, wildlife and our traditional medicines are at risk of being lost,” Veronica Favel stated. “Continuously we have felt this impact.”

The Cumberland House Cree Nation chief said his community has the inherent right to secure and reliable water sources and the current water crisis is deeply concerning.

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“We call upon authorities to take immediate and collaborative action to restore their water supply. The Nation’s struggle for access to water is a stark reminder of the urgent need for the co-development of sustainable water management policies, informed by local Indigenous knowledge,” Chief Rene Chaboyer said.

Ryan Carriere, the MN-S regional director, said ongoing issues with water fluctuations continue to be a health and safety issue for their community members and wildlife that call the Saskatchewan River Delta home.

“Resource users are not able to safely navigate the waterways to access traditional harvesting grounds and are damaging equipment because of low water,” Carriere stated.

“As Section 35 rights holders we have an Aboriginal right to our ancestral lands to gather medicines, hunt, and fish. Our traditional way of life and our cultural identity and teachings are being lost by not being able to access our ancestral homelands. The current water crisis is causing the Largest Inland Delta in North America.”

According to the release, the Cumberland House reservoir is fed by the Big Stone River, part of the Saskatchewan River system. The Big Stone River has stopped flowing due to low watershed levels. With winter coming soon and water bodies freezing, time is limited to find solutions to get water into the reservoir.

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“Reduced flow levels in the watershed due to ongoing drought conditions and systemic upstream water diversions along the South and North Saskatchewan, and Saskatchewan River watersheds have emptied the village’s reservoir and surrounding Delta watershed,” the release read.

“An immediate response is needed from government agencies responsible to restore safe and reliable access to drinking water in Cumberland House and safe water levels to navigate the Saskatchewan Delta River system safely. ”

In an email statement from the province, many Saskatchewan ministries and agencies, including the Water Security Agency, SaskPower, the Ministry of Government Relations, SaskWater, and the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, are working with the Northern Village of Cumberland House to implement short-term solutions, as well as looking at longer term solutions to ensure the reliability of the village’s water supply.

“A short-term solution has been implemented, with additional pumping capacity currently operating,” according to the statement. “It is expected the reservoir will be full by this weekend, providing approximately 3 months of water storage.”

The province added that additional sources are being considered to ensure that water is available to the village until spring 2024 and beyond.

A working group of Cumberland House, government ministries/agencies, Métis Nation–Saskatchewan and other interested parties has been formed to recommend viable long-term water supply solutions for the village.

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