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Conservation group calls for environmental assessment on $4B Lake Diefenbaker irrigation project

Click to play video 'Conservation group calls for environmental assessment on $4B Lake Diefenbaker irrigation project' Conservation group calls for environmental assessment on $4B Lake Diefenbaker irrigation project
WATCH: An environmental group is calling for an impact assessment of the $4 billion Lake Diefenbaker irrigation project.

A conservation group is calling for an assessment of the potential ramifications of the Lake Diefenbaker irrigation project announced early this month.

The Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) said it’s concerning that the province committed $4 billion to the project prior to the completion of an environmental impact assessment.

“Any project of this magnitude must be considered on the basis of environmental ramifications, economic impacts, and public policy,” said SES vice president Bob Halliday, a water resources engineer.

Read more: Saskatchewan moving ahead with $4B irrigation project at Lake Diefenbaker

With preliminary engineering underway, the 10-year build by the Water Security Agency is in its infancy. That leaves many questions about potential environmental effects unanswered. 

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Halliday worries reduced downstream flows will limit hydroelectric production at the Coteau Creek generating station, along with hydroelectric facilities to Hudson Bay. 

The SES highlighted soil contamination, degraded water quality and damage to the Saskatchewan River Delta as other potential ramifications on its long list of concerns.

“The province hasn’t made any specific description of what they envisage, other than they want to spend $4 billion over 10 years,” Halliday said.

“Until we know the operating plan for the reservoir under this new irrigation regime, we really don’t know exactly what the consequences will be.”

WSA spokesperson Patrick Boyle said it’s because of those unknowns that the agency has yet to conduct an environmental impact assessment.

Read more: Saskatchewan government studying Lake Diefenbaker canal expansion

“(The WSA needs) more detail on actually what the engineering looks like, what the design is… so we can understand the actual technical detail. Then we can go out and actually go through the (assessment) process,” Boyle told Global News, noting that will also help with consultations.

“You need to actually have something to consult on. We don’t have that yet.”

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Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations vice chief Heather Bear said doesn’t buy that logic for the lack of consultation with Indigenous communities.

“You can’t tell me someone hasn’t done some planning if they’re going to (spend) $4 billion,” Bear said.

“We can’t be an afterthought.”

She said it’s disrespectful the project, which could irrigate about 200,000 hectares of land, was announced prior to consulting with First Nations.

“We have grave concerns,” she said, pointing to the delta near Cumberland House as an area of particular concern.

Consultation will move forward once the WSA has a more fulsome understanding of what the project will look like and how it could affect various ecosystems, Boyle said.

He noted Lake Diefenbaker was designed for irrigation.

“There is water available in Lake Diefenbaker for this project,” Boyle said.

“Does more work need to be done to understand that more as we go forward? Absolutely. And that’s what we’re doing.”

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