Tag Archives: South Saskatchewan River

Two views of Saskatoon (Edited)

I posted this photo this morning and was surprised by the feedback.  After writing over 25,000 words on homelessness here, for the The StarPhoenix, and other publications, I had long ago thought that very few cared enough about homelessness to care enough to respond one way or the other.

Homeless female on the west side of the river

The background of the photo is pretty boring.  Wendy and I were simply taking the 6 p.m. cruise on The Prairie Lily.   It was smoky last Friday and I debated bringing my Pentax K-3 with me at all.  I did and I took some photos of the downtown and River Landing.  As we approached Victoria Park I was looking at the east side of the river when a hush fell over the top deck and I heard someone say, “Oh My God, someone is living over there.”  I looked and took a couple of photos.  Someone actually cried a bit.  Here we were basically taking the Saskatoon equivalent of a luxury cruise down the river using the very definition of disposable income and there was someone living in a tent surrounded by garbage.  The top of the deck got very quiet as we sailed by and then as we passed it again on the way back.

The boat holds around 75 people.  Let’s say it averages 50 people a cruise so at least 100 people a day see what I saw.  It is directly across the river from the homes on Saskatchewan Crescent E. (some of which have asked that I remove the photos of their property despite it being in full site of Victoria Park and the Prairie Lily).  Rather than cause problems.  I took their photos down.

Over the last several years I have written several columns a year on homelessness and housing issues.  I have written about the cost to society, best practices on how to stop it, the impact on children, and the impact of living in a tent.  The Saskatoon homelessness count came out and there are 500 people living in some state of homelessness.

When I have written about encampments in the city before, people always tell me that they must be voluntary, when I have taken photos of the tents, I have had it suggested that they could be camping.  I decided to include a person in this photo because that is where she lives and to be honest, the angle of her head makes it impossible to identify her from anyone else.

This is what homelessness looks like.  A $80 tent from Walmart looking at multi-million dollar homes on Saskatchewan Crescent.  It is also multi-million dollar homeowners looking back at a tent and no one is moved to change a thing.

100 Ideas to Improve Saskatoon: 2. Convert the Traffic Bridge into a Pedestrian Bridge

When the Traffic Bridge closed a couple of years ago, the city was in a near state of panic.  Idylwyld Bridge was being repaired and traffic was atrocious.  People screamed for a replacement bridge despite a) few people ever used it b) whenever we take one of our bridges offline, Traffic Bridge or not, downtown backs up.  

Now we have a new South Circle Drive Bridge and soon will have a new North Commuter Bridge which will change traffic patterns even more.  Despite that, City Council has decided that we need three bridges within a kilometre of each other and is dedicated to rebuilding what the city administration basically described as a surplus bridge.

There is another alternative and that is to turn it into a pedestrian bridge, something that could strengthen the ties between Nutana and the downtown core/River Landing tremendously.

Take a look at this conceptual rendering by OPEN.

Victoria bridge aerial summerFINAL 1024x514

1.new views  2.public gathering place  3.zip-line  4.enclosed vertical garden  5.separated bike/pedestrian access

As they see it.

This resulted in a ‘new’ bridge, one that retains some glory of its former self but a ‘new’ bridge that sets out to enhance the existing qualities of the river valley. While it maintains its original connection points on either side of the river it also presents new stronger connection to existing conditions. Its reconfigured spans offer new views in all directions including glass portholes that let users see below the deck. The ‘new’ bridge also proposes a zip line as a new form of passage that reconnects the bridge to Rotary Park and adds new adventure for thrill seekers alike. There is ample opportunity for gathering and a separate bicycle lane to ensure safety. It is a hub for artists, theatre groups, musicians, poets, festival and event organizers. And because Saskatchewan is known for its culture of growing, the ‘new’ bridge would provide the infrastructure required to support a vertical community garden that produces food year round.

This story ends with a ‘realized’ project that retains a piece of its past but reinterprets its trajectory to better serve and enhance the existing and future community through a representation of a perceived experience.

As other cities have shown, pedestrian cities bond a community more than a traffic bridge does.  With Saskatoon unable (and unwilling) to even clean it’s bridge decks in a timely fashion, crossing any of Saskatoon’s bridges on a wet or dry dusty day is not the most pleasant experience.  No wonder people prefer to use pedestrian bridges, especially ones that look like the rendering by OPEN.

Especially if there is a zip line.

Flooding in Saskatoon

That flood water from Calgary has to go somewhere and it’s headed toward Saskatoon.  Here is the press release.

The City of Saskatoon is taking precautionary measures, based on the potential rise in Lake Diefenbaker and the South Saskatchewan River, resulting from the heavy rainfall in Alberta.

Today, the Water Security Agency advised the public that record inflows from Alberta will cause flooding along the South Saskatchewan River. In anticipation of these record flows, the Water Security Agency is proactively increasing outflows from Lake Diefenbaker to try and mitigate the impact of this event.

The City of Saskatoon Emergency Measures Organization is communicating closely with the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency and Emergency Management Fire Safety (EMFS) to monitor the situation, make necessary adjustments, and keep citizens well informed as new information is received.

As a result of the information received from the Water Security Agency, the City of Saskatoon is taking precautionary measures, particularly for low lying areas around the South Saskatchewan riverbank.

For the safety of our residents, the City will be restricting access, with barricades, to lower lying roads and parts of the Meewasin Valley Trail where flooding may occur. Beginning at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 22, 2013, the following locations will be closed until further notice.

Since some of you have asked, most of Saskatoon is well above river levels and where it does spill it’s banks (Spadina Cres below River Heights) there is nothing around to damage.  It does upset the geese however and that is never a good thing.

In case you are curious, here is a great photo set of the last time the South Saskatchewan River was really high.  There were kayakers on the weir.

The Greatest Marine Disaster in the History of Saskatoon

I love this story

Steamboats rarely used the South Saskatchewan River because the shallow waters made for unreliable service. Not to be deterred, the Medicine Hat hotelier and Scottish nobleman Horatio Ross commissioned a new boat in 1906-07 to connect the newly completed railway at Medicine Hat to points downstream. The sternwheeler, the S.S. City of Medicine Hat, was 40 m long and had a draft of only 0.6 m.

On June 7, 1908 the boat proceeded downstream during the high water and tricky currents of the spring flood. It cleared the Grand Trunk Railway Bridge at Saskatoon and was gingerly attempting the passage under the Canadian Northern Railway Bridge when its rudder and sternwheel became entangled in a submerged telegraph line. The captain lost control and the ship drifted downstream striking the pier of the Traffic Bridge. The ship rode up the pier and wrecked. All on board but the ship’s engineer clambered on to the bridge. He took to the water and swam to shore downstream. Some remnants of the wreck have been recovered recently.

It’s a great story for two reasons.

  1. No one was hurt.
  2. We actually use the term “The Greatest Marine Disaster in the History of Saskatoon” with a straight face.

If You Build It, They Will Come

My column in today’s The StarPhoenix

Years ago I was in Bahamas and had a chance to go swimming with sharks. A company took us in the middle of the Caribbean, tossed down a box of chum into the ocean and then tossed a line off the back of the boat to hold onto. There was no dive cage. You jumped into the water and prayed that the reef sharks that you were about to swim with know that they are bottom feeders and aren’t not in the mood to try something fattier.

Before we went on this ridiculously stupid expedition, we had to sign a waiver that said that if I was attacked by sharks, no attempt of rescue would be made. If in the unlikely chance I made it back to the boat, no first aid would be administrated and if I made to the shore without bleeding out, there would be no assistance given to me there either. I did what anyone would do that was going through an early stage midlife crisis would do, I signed it and got on the boat.

People do reckless things here in Saskatoon. Rather than have us sign waivers that stops us from doing stupid things like swimming with sharks, we have by-laws that prohibit things like swimming in the South Saskatchewan River. Even though we know the river has an undertow and a fast current, people do it all of the time. Whether it at the beach at the bottom of Ravine Drive or heading up to swim at Cranberry Flats, the lure of the water and the beach is a strong one for many people on hot summer days. While it may give people a break from the heat, it does pose some inherent risk. It risks those that are caught in the river’s undercurrent and it puts people at risk who are called on to save them; whether that be onlookers or the Saskatoon Fire Department. Too often by the time people are able to respond, it’s too late.

While this explains the by-laws designed to keep us out of the river in the city, it also means there aren’t a lot of places for people to escape the Saskatoon summer (if it ever gets here). Saskatoon does make an effort in trying to give people a place to go. There has been the significant upgrade to Mayfair Pool, changes and improvements to the spray parks, and even the transformation of River Landing all give us options than swimming in the river, yet people still flock to the beach on Ravine Drive where there is no parking, limited access, no life guards and during much of the summer, dangerous river conditions.

Calgary was faced with the same dilemma in the late 1970s and in 1978, they opened Sikome Lake in Fish Creek Provincial Park. The lake isn’t that much larger than the “lake” in Lakeview but it’s designed to be swam in. It features a hard sand bottom, a circulating spray fountain, change rooms, concession stands, and the same washed out orange sun shades that were installed when it opened. The best part of it is that it is surrounded by a wide sandy beach. Further back from the beach are picnic and barbecue areas. While it’s not that impressive to look at compared to many of Saskatchewan’s amazing lakes, it invited you into it to swim and cool down and enjoy the summer. Being in the city, it was easy to get to by car or bicycle. It also gave people another option than wading into the Bow River. While it used to be open year round, the lake is drained every winter and filled again (it takes three weeks) in the spring.

The results are that on many hot summer weekends, over 20,000 people flock there each day. The picnic spots are all taken and there is barely any spot on the beach at all. While it may not be my idea of a perfect day, it is for a lot of people, especially people who don’t have the time or the means to get away to the lake. With the average home price in Saskatoon over $300,000 and cabin prices at many northern lakes going for that much, heading away to the lake is an option for fewer and fewer people. There is Pike Lake but any lake that has to build a swimming pool right beside the lake, doesn’t seem to be a great option and so we default back to debating access to a lousy sandbar. Instead of having the same old debate about the same old sandbar that is right beside a dangerous undertow, let’s build something else. While the sandbar along the river may not be safe, it does prove one thing, if you build it, we will come.

City Report on Water Consumption

Growing up on a river, you never really think about water consumption outside of your water bill.  That started to change when we bought our house twelve years ago.  It has a boulevard out front but since we are on a corner lot, it also has a large one along the side of the house that is unbroken by a sidewalk.  The entire yard was a mess and by the time I got to the boulevard, it was a couple of years later.  We had fertilized it and watered but the problem was that the grass (basically a quack grass) was growing on clay which meant no top soil, shallow roots, and zero water absorption.  I bet 90% to 95% of the water ran off the boulevard and went straight down the drain.

Our house What I should have done was rotor till the entire boulevard, bring in top soil, organic matter and reseed but I didn’t have the money to do so and I am not sure you can do that to a city boulevard anyways.  I took another approach in that I stopped bagging my grass with the hope that it would stop some of the evaporation of the 5% of water that was being absorbed and eventually break down and decompose to provide some organic matter.  In addition to this I started to spread both some peat moss and compost down on the lawn.  Finally I started to aerate the lawn and boulevard which helped out a lot.  Over the next five years the well beaten path of people cutting through the lawn came back (we did over seed with a hearty mixtures from Early’s Farm and Garden) and the boulevard started to transition from rock hard to developing a spongy feel like there was actual soil underneath.  Now the lawn isn’t healthy enough to be organic and I do have a vacant weed infested lot behind be which causes all sorts of problems with noxious weeds which means that I tend to use a lot of weed and feed on the boulevard on the back half of our lot but we have made a lot of progress.  Last year for the first time I spread out a mixture of home brewed compost tea (recipe and instructions) after seeing how it has made a difference at Harvard (less mowing, less water, deeper roots and it absorbs wear and tear of students better).  The end result of all this has been our water consumption is way down the last several years.

Now it looks like a lot of work but it was actually less work than you think.  First of all, not picking up the grass after we mow saved a lot of time.  There are some times when a combination of rain and schedule that I do bag up our grass, plus, I do need some grass for the compost container once in a while but most of the time, it’s a big time saver and the rest of the work needs to be done anyways.  The big change has been to go to the compost tea and I am hoping that it will make a big difference over the next couple of years.

One thing that strikes me is that we don’t do a lot of talking in the city about reducing water consumption.  The average Canadian uses about 120,000 litres (26,396 gallons) of water per year which is why I was happy to see that in the full report that the Saskatoon Environmental Advisory Committee presented to the Administration and Finance Committee included five recommendations related to water conservation.  Here are their recommendations in summary

  1. amend existing bylaws to require water efficient fixtures (low-flow toilets and shower heads) for new and existing building construction and renovations in residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional sectors,
  2. implement a low-flow toilet rebate program similar to other Western Canadian municipalities,
  3. enact a bylaw implementing an outdoor water schedule,
  4. report back on a strategy to implement a water monitoring program, and
  5. promote and develop new programs and incentives for water conservation.

Number 3 is the most interesting option to me.  Okotoks’s schedule works like this

Due to the increase in water consumption in town, outdoor watering is now only permitted two days a week.  One hour of watering per week is adequate for established lawns.

Odd numbered addresses may water lawns:  (Addresses ending in 1,3,5,7,9)
Thursdays &/or Sundays

Even numbered addresses may water lawns:  (Addresses ending in 0,2,4,6,8)
Wednesdays &/or Saturdays

Watering may only occur during the following hours:
6:00 am – 9:00 am
7:00 pm – 11:00 pm

Flowerbeds and vegetable gardens may be watered by hand at any time using a watering can or hose with a trigger spray nozzle.

Please respect the specified watering days and hours, as water is a limited resource. The fines for not obeying the water regulations range from $100—$2500.

Cambridge has a similar plan but will it work and be accepted here.  It’s a big shift in behavior for Saskatoon, especially when much of our water consumption goes right back into the South Saskatchewan River (once treated).  Mark and Oliver have grown up running through the sprinkler in the yard and Maggi takes a nap under the sprinkler on many days.  To lose that or have that restricted would be a big change.  It would also lead to conflicts among neighbors.  Someone is always complaining about one neighbor on our street because they think his vehicles take up too much street parking (which makes no sense to me).  Every summer someone from the city comes by because (probably the same neighbor that complains about the parking) is sure the maple firewood we have in the backyard is elm (and banned).  Watching a recent show on Melbourne, Australia which has more severe water restrictions than what Okotoks has (Melbourne has had a drought since 1997), people put up signs saying that their gardens are being watered by excess shower water.

Saving water in MelbourneWhile we aren’t in a situation of drought, the South Saskatchewan River is under some pressure and this where I get upset.  On one hand, I totally agree with the recommendations being made to Saskatoon City Council yet on the other hand, this isn’t a Saskatoon issue.  Most of the water being taken from the South Saskatchewan River is from irrigation projects in Alberta.

“We know virtually nothing about actual use or consumption of water,” she says. “No one does.” Her assertion catches There are nearly 12,000 licensed users of river water and 80 percent of the water allocated under these licences is withdrawn in Alberta’s sprawling irrigation districts. Users typically meter their intake pipes, but the standards for reporting are lax, and withdrawal numbers alone cannot tell us actual water use. Some water is taken up by growing plants, some evaporates or is lost from leaking canals, and much simply flows back to the river. Since none of this is measured, actual consumption is just an estimate based on assumptions.

The article goes on to state

When it comes to water, getting the big picture is never easy. The truth can simply vanish in the details. Since the future of the river is, in the broadest sense, a supply-demand equation, I set off to the university’s department of economics to find Joel Bruneau, co-editor of a comprehensive technical report called “Climate Change and Water Resources in the South Saskatchewan River Basin.” The ponytailed professor does his part to avert a hotter, drier future climate by getting around Saskatoon by bicycle year-round. But his report suggests the challenges are here and now.

“The whole story is irrigation,” says Bruneau before I am quite seated in his office. His studies show there is sufficient river water to cope with regional population growth and worst-scenario climate change, but not if we keep irrigating at the present rate.

In fact, irrigation is still expanding. Even though Alberta stopped issuing new water licenses in the South Saskatchewan River Basin in 2006, room to grow comes from “efficiencies” — converting leaky, evaporation-prone canals to low-loss pipeworks. Trading in water allocations, which further maximizes Alberta consumption, is on the rise. The net result of such “savings” is less water in the river for downstream users.

“They are already overallocated on the Oldman and Bow rivers and borrowing from the Red Deer to pay the ‘bill’ to Saskatchewan,” says Bruneau, who can foresee a day when Alberta will want to buy some of Saskatchewan’s share. For years a poor cousin to its western neighbor, Saskatchewan has seen its economic fortunes rise meteorically, and some farmers have called on government to directly match Alberta’s irrigation investment.

Bruneau doubts new irrigation projects would make economic sense now, if they ever did, but he dismisses the idea on more fundamental grounds. “We are taking a third of the river for irrigation already,” he says. “There’s no way we can double that. The water would become warm, covered with algae. The fish would die.”

So Saskatoon gets to pay the bill because Alberta farmer’s want to grow crops that are more profitable then would be allowed by normal farm conditions.   I remember seeing the dry river beds of California and the Colorado River and thinking, I am so lucky to have the South Saskatchewan River.  Let’s hope enough people agree and we come up with ways to guarantee that it is always going to be there.

The South Saskatchewan River

The Weir as a Power Station

That dam weir

Saskatoon has decided not to fund a feasibility study on turning the weir into a small hydro power project.

The major question now is how much power could be produced annually, Hudson said. A B.C.-based consultant calculated in an initial report -via computer modelling -that the hydropower station could pay for construction costs in 12 years and produce close to $400 million in revenue over 50 years.

But a review by Cliff Smith, a retired professor and an expert on engineering projects in the South Saskatchewan River, said the benefits were over-estimated and the construction costs under-estimated. The cost of installing a coffer dam has increased dramatically since the consultant’s estimate, Smith said.

"I’m more convinced than ever that the economic viability is seriously in question," Smith said, "If it was my money, I’d say it’s time to call it off. A private developer wouldn’t touch this project with a 10-foot pole."

The power utility is looking to install water-level instrumentation upstream and downstream to get a more accurate handle on flow rates and judge the effect of ice buildup, which was one of Smith’s main concerns, Hudson said. Council’s approval this spring would be needed to fund the next phase of study.

"Then we can get a very accurate annual energy projection," Hudson said. "You do it for a full year and get a handle on the impact of the ice . . . We want to get the actual site-specific measurements."

The whole idea of a white water park, surfing simulator, and hydro electric dam seemed to be too good to be true for the price tags being tossed around.  Hopefully the project will be revived in the future.  At least the tall wind turbine project is moving forward.

Rebate for low flow toilets?

Saskatoon’s environmental advisory committee is calling for a rebate to encourage citizens to cut back on water use.

Rebates of $50 to $100 for people who purchase low-flow toilets are available in most western Canadian cities, the report notes, putting Saskatoon “significantly behind the curve.” The Saskatchewan Watershed Authority offers a $50 rebate for the purchase of low-flow toilets, but a city program would “boost the attractiveness,” the report says.

This would have implications for the city which tends to need us to use more water to pay for infrastructure costs.

The city has been criticized in recent years when dips in water use have been met with rate hikes to ensure enough revenue is collected to pay for the upkeep and expansion of water infrastructure.

In 2010, heavy rainfall and conservation led to an 11 per cent drop in water use and $6.4 million less in revenue collected by the water utility. The city has delayed water infrastructure projects to make up for the shortfall.

Despite short-term difficulties, the less water used the better it is for the system long-term, Jorgenson said.

“If you use less water, you will save money,” he said.

Back in October I blogged a link about decreasing water levels in the South Saskatchewan River by Saskatoon writer Allan Casey.  The entire article is worth a read.

“We know virtually nothing about actual use or consumption of water,” she says. “No one does.” Her assertion catches me off guard. Having waded through hundreds of pages of river studies and reports over the years, I’ve seen water-consumption figures cited exhaustively, used in graphs, equations and, that staple of water literature, pie charts. Consumption figures are even noted in the Partners’ own 2009 state-of-the-basin study, “From the Mountains to the Sea.” Lamb is a very bright person, but in this instance, she must somehow be mistaken. Surely our actual water use is too widely discussed, too vital a statistic here in Palliser country, to be an unknown.

“Certainly actual use is rarely measured,” confirms Robert Halliday, author of the Partners’ report, when I go to see him for clarification. Halliday, former director of Environment Canada’s National Hydrology Research Centre, says that we measure river flows at about 2,500 monitoring stations across the country. The Saskatoon station is not far from Halliday’s house, just upstream from the weir in a little brick building. But beyond this thin data-gathering network, everything is guesswork.

There are nearly 12,000 licensed users of river water and 80 percent of the water allocated under these licences is withdrawn in Alberta’s sprawling irrigation districts. Users typically meter their intake pipes, but the standards for reporting are lax, and withdrawal numbers alone cannot tell us actual water use. Some water is taken up by growing plants, some evaporates or is lost from leaking canals, and much simply flows back to the river. Since none of this is measured, actual consumption is just an estimate based on assumptions.

Our estimates are accurate only on a large scale. Humans currently withdraw about 50 percent of the total South Saskatchewan flow. Actual consumption — withdrawals minus return flows — is about 33 percent.

The River That Once Ran Through It

Canadian Geographic has a great article on how the South Saskatchewan River is in danger of running dry.

The true danger is hard to know. A 2009 report by World Wildlife Fund Canada called it the country’s most-threatened river. Yet record rains this year have caused floods and widespread crop damage. Amid such climatic uncertainty, perhaps the real threats to the South Saskatchewan are not drought or flood, but ignorance and confusion. As with every Canadian river and lake, hundreds of government, academic and stewardship agencies at federal, provincial and municipal levels attempt to study and manage the river, directly or indirectly. There is no means to coordinate them. Water is so abundant across most of Canada that we have gotten away with such Byzantine management. When the reckoning comes, it will surely come first to our dryland river. After 150 years of settlement in the mercurial west, we cannot answer the one question most basic to our livelihood: will there always be enough water?

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