Turtle Mountain Conservation District puts its best foot forward

The Turtle Mountain Conservation District toured the public around some of its recent 
and long-standing projects as part of the biennial event

It was a once-in-two-year chance June 28 as participants lined up for a look behind the scenes of the Turtle Mountain Conservation District during the biennial bus tour.

“We just wanted to focus on the Waskada Creek area,” district manager Yasmine Wruth said. “We couldn’t do the entire area, but we focused on the southern portion of it. Accessibility was one reason we chose (the sites) and they were projects that we did fairly recently.”

Covering 4,500 square kilometres around Deloraine and the Canada-U.S. border, much of the Turtle Mountain Conservation District is a perennial flood risk zone, as spring run-off swells the East Souris and Pembina rivers and rushes down from the Turtle Mountain hills to the south.

Water management formed the backbone of the tour as staff pointed out protected wetlands, back-flood structures, grassed waterways, dams and bank stabilization projects.

Building riverbanks

The creek running past Dave Stewart’s farm southwest of Deloraine looks quite different now from when its eroding banks were rebuilt about five years ago.

“We’ve had quite a bit of flooding here in the last few years,” Stewart said. “The last 10 years, the water seems to be picking up, so this bank was getting closer and closer to where I have to drive and there’s not much room between here and the barn, so we had to do something.”

Stewart approached the conservation district, which agreed to take on the project.

Over two days, staff graded down the bank from what was once a near drop to a 3:1 slope. Netting from coconut husks was used to protect the new shape until plants took root, while stone and willow were brought in to discourage erosion. The conservation district has made special use of willow in such projects due to its complex root system.

The area was then fenced off to limit cattle access and allow vegetation to grow, further stabilizing the bank.

“It stopped eroding and it’s working great,” Stewart said.

The district covered all costs of the project, save the cost of fencing.

Dam tested

One of the district’s most recent projects was put to the test in its first year, attendees were told during a tour stop on top of the almost four-metre-high dam across a ravine southeast of Waskada.

The $41,000 structure was completed in fall 2016 after producer Jeff Thom applied for funding through Manitoba’s Growing Assurance program. The conservation district came on to design the dam.

The structure draws from 700 acres of surrounding land, can store 36 acre-feet of water (the amount needed to cover 36 acres with water one foot deep) and will form another line of defence for both an existing dam and roads down stream.

“That dam has washed out two or three times in the last 10 years, and then when it let go, it took out several roads down stream from there,” Thom said.

“There is a bit of a risk, I guess, with having these structures hold back water, but this should help that dam down stream and those roads,” he added.

Made to handle a one-in-50-year flood, the dam can hold or release water depending on current need in the area and expected flows, much like larger reservoirs along the Assiniboine and Souris rivers.

“We can draw down the water and basically take the peak off during spring run-off,” Wruth said.

The district was forced to use that function this spring, when snowmelt roared through the area.

“It was coming through that runway about three or four feet or a metre and a half deep,” Thom said. “You could hear it running from the road.”

The conservation district said the structure will also provide water storage for drought conditions, help reduce erosion, create wildlife habitat and capture nutrients that would otherwise flow down the watershed. The four-metre-wide structure also doubles as a roadway between Thom’s fields on either side of the ravine.

The conservation district will return to the site in fall to install a plunge pool, Wruth said.

Looking ahead

The district’s work on water storage projects will continue this year in both the East Souris River and Upper Pembina River watersheds.

“The East Souris River, there’s four sub-watersheds within that and I would say three of those are doing water storage projects, as well as a few grass waterway,” Wruth said.

“For the Pembina River, we’ve got two water storage projects, as well as some bank stabilization projects as well,” she added.

Several remote watering systems are also incoming into the East Souris River area and the conservation district plans to update the decade-old East Souris River Watershed management plan.

Public consultations will be held in fall 2017 as part of that process, Wruth said.

The creek bank bordering Dave Stewart’s yard site south of Deloraine was given a gentler slop and erosion-mitigating vegetation during one of the Turtle Mountain Conservation District’s bank stabilization projects five years ago.
photo: Alexis Stockford

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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