Cumberland House declares state of emergency over ongoing water crisis

The Saskatchewan River Delta contains some of Canada's most biodiverse areas — 80 per cent of which are wetlands. (Photo courtesy Saskatchewan tourism)

The Village of Cumberland House has declared a state of emergency due to a lack of drinking water – an issue that has been ongoing with fluctuating river levels.

A news release from the Metis Nation – Saskatchewan (MN-S), which is supporting the village with the nearby Cree Nation, said the village does not have enough water to fill its reservoir for the winter. The community has enough drinking water to last four weeks.

Acting Mayor Veronica Favel said the issue stems from “complete negligence” from the province, SaskPower and the Water Security Agency (WSA). Officials from each of these groups are working together to find a long-term solution.

“Along with the municipality not having access to fresh water, wildlife and our traditional medicines are at risk of being lost. Continuously we have felt this impact,” said Favel.

The area is mainly populated by Cree and Metis peoples.

Cumberland House Cree Nation Chief Rene Chaboyer called on authorities to restore the area’s water supply.

“The nation’s struggle for access to water is a stark reminder of the urgent need for the codevelopment of sustainable water management policies, informed by local Indigenous knowledge,” he said.

“The state of the fur bearing animals, the birds, fish, and plants are also part of the crisis.”

The Cumberland House reservoir receives water from the Big Stone River, which has stopped flowing due to low levels in the Saskatchewan river system. The MN-S said “time is limited” with freezing temperatures near.

The MN-S also pointed fingers at the EB Campbell Dam for interrupting the cycles of the Saskatchewan River Delta. It said that as long as the dam continues to operate, the area’s water issues will persist.

The Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) said it’s on site in Cumberland House assisting the WSA.

“We have been in communication in a support capacity for a period of time now, since last week we were already mobilizing equipment,” said Steve Roberts, vice-president of operations.

He said the SPSA has delivered pumps and arranged for a pumping contractor to assist with ensuring the reservoir is at full capacity ahead of winter.

“They also have, unfortunately, every few years they will have high water levels that require prevention and some measures to deal with flooding in the community, all predicated on basically river levels,” added Roberts.

The reservoir is the only source of clean drinking water for Cumberland House, according to the MN-S.