Chain reaction — Water quality

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  • Jun. 15, 2011 7:00 a.m.

CHARLES TWEED/Ponoka News

It may be considered a renewable resource but the simple truth is the world’s fresh water supply is steadily decreasing.

The Friends of Chain Lakes Society held its inaugural meeting on June 8 at Scott School and water was the top priority on the agenda.

Bernice Edwards is the president of the newly registered society and said the group was formed out of concern for the quality of water in the three lakes.

“We’re referring to ourselves as the stewards of Chain Lakes, which means we’re the ones watching out for the lakes and our goal is to strive to keep the waters as clean as possible,” said Edwards.

Controversy has quite literally surrounded the lakes after Zealand Farms Ltd. proposed building a poultry confined feeding operation (CFO) within one mile of the lake. The proposed building location violated Ponoka County’s municipal development plan. During the review process several residents near Chain Lakes opposed the site and have since joined the society.

“There is an organization called Lake Watch who will be testing the waters in the first lake,” said Edwards, who felt the testing was an important starting point.

“We need to do some more research because when you’re in an area where manure is getting more and more prevalent there has to be thoughts happening about how, down the road, some of these issues of more and more manure and at some point we may have to do something different with the manure.”

The group has found information about a feedlot in northern Alberta that uses a manure digester that converts the waste into power and uses the energy to run the operation.

“Instead of spreading manure, which is becoming more and more saturated, they (the operators) could be hauling it to this thing,” said Edwards.

She wasn’t sure who would foot the bill for the cost of the digester but thought there might be an opportunity for a cost-sharing system between the operators of CFOs and Ponoka County.

Edwards thought it was imperative that the Friends of Chain Lakes work as partners with the operators rather than creating an adversarial relationship.

“Some of the CFOs really were wondering what this meeting was going to be all about and they were worried that we were going to be pointing fingers at confined feeding operations. That isn’t our intent at all, we all need to be involved in this because lakes and rivers belong to all of us…we want to build bridges not burn them. It’s about sharing ideas because it’s the ideas that we need,” said Edwards.

Dr. Brad Stelfox is a professor of biological sciences at the University and talked about the need for people to take responsibility for one of our greatest resources, water.

“I prepared a presentation that looks generally at Alberta and more specifically at this area in terms of changes in water quality and what’s causing it and what are some of the things we can do about it,” he said.

Stelfox has won numerous awards for his work on land use sustainability issues including the Alberta Science and Technology Award and the William Rowan Award that is presented to an Alberta wildlife biologist who has made outstanding contributions to the management and conservation of wildlife and their habitats.

“It’s important to understand how the water is changing. both in quantity and quality,” said Stelfox. “We need to make sure land uses are conducted in a way that is profitable but also respects ecological goods and services like water.”

Stelfox admitted it was gratifying to see the grassroots movement across the province, calling it an awakening and people rising up to the challenge. He emphasized the fact industry shouldn’t slow down but instead it is up to legislative bodies to create the proper framework for land use.

 “It’s precious and it’s limited so we have to start a conversation. We need to find a pro-business approach that integrates water into our performance indicators. We need to make money and raise our kids and make sure the water stays at a high quality,” he said.

“It would be appropriate to say the government could respond a little more quickly but the government responds as quickly as the electorate wants them to and the problem is you and me.”

Stelfox does see changes on the horizon.

“This area is in the Red Deer drainage basin and in the next few years we’re going to see top down provincial management plans for the entire basin that will have commentary on everything from extensive feedlot operations to rural residential to oil and gas to cultivated lands to transportation network,” said Stelfox. “This is a phenomenal opportunity to start a group like this so they can essentially tell a compelling story to the government for when the land use framework comes here in a few years and it’s a question of what this place is going to look like in 25 years.”

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