The Water Security Agency (WSA) is hoping to calm the aqua around the potential irrigation project for the Duncairn Reservoir.
Since the summertime, residents situated along the man-made body of water and downstream have shared their thoughts with the Crown corporation in charge of the reservoir's rights.
This first began with the WSA setting up meetings with 12 stakeholder groups in August to gauge the public's interest in the proposed 4,000 acre-feet irrigation idea. It also allowed them to collect vital feedback from locals on what they'd like to see.
One of the requests made to the WSA was to have them complete a fishery assessment on the impact of the possible irrigation. This was completed in the middle of October and has provided some critical insight and key next steps.
Leah Clark, the executive director of irrigation and economic development for the WSA, said some perceptions around the project moving swiftly are unjust.
"We believe the most responsible way to proceed is to continue diving into that science, look at all the research and different ways, engage with concerned people like we are, and people in support of this project," she said. "That's really been helpful in determining what we look at and how we look at it."
The four-page fishery assessment included one draw-down rate which can be altered for lower and higher amounts. This research is only one piece of what the WSA is committing to perform and use for their decision-making.
"It's our mandate to make science-based decisions and decisions that are balanced and do it in a sustainable way," she said.
One of the recommendations from the assessment and ask by stakeholders was for an updated bathymetry and the WSA has obligated.
"We're still pulling in data and other information that was asked from those consultations," she said. "We have to loop back and share that in a transparent way."
Other steps to move closer to a final decision for the proposal involves engaging with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, improving modelling and reservoir simulations, and monitoring and compliance with irrigation.
"There's a basin close by to Duncairn that, that's been done successfully," she said. "We're looking at bringing in technology to help us with that monitoring, reporting, and complaince."
A moratorium was placed on the body of water in 1981 halting any increased irrigation. Clark understands the fear some residents have around increasing it after over four decades of standing pat.
"When we start looking at opening up allocations and water usage, it is uncomfortable because it is a new concept," she said. "We take it very seriously to do our due diligence and do the science and explain... It's also very important to us that we protect the fisheries and the environment. This is a multiple-use reservoir and we need to protect those multiple uses.
"With proper mitigation efforts, proper reservoir planning and operation, we really do believe we can achieve all the uses of that reservoir in a balanced way."
With irrigation demand growing significantly since the last increase from the Duncairn Reservoir it's created quite a backlog of people interested in acquiring the rights. In August of 2023, then Minister Responsible for WSA Jeremy Cockrill, told Swift Current Online they had nine producers and or companies interested over the last decade.
However, nothing has been agreed upon and the WSA recently used a lottery-type system to aid in the exact same process and would do so again for this project.
"It was delivered in such a way that it was fair, everyone had the same chance," she said. "We limited the max allocation to one entity, to make sure that it was distributed and could support as many operations as possible."
The WSA is staffed with scientists who will be looking at a multitude of different datasets, creating more, and playing around with various draw-down rates.
"We're pushing forward with more of that data collection and review," she said.
Alongside collecting additional research, Clark said their main job right now will be to continue to listen to stakeholders and they invite different ideas being submitted or proposed.
They're hoping to create a webpage soon to help with transparency and show the data and research they completed.
As for a time on a final decision, Clark said that's extremely hard to predict right now as it doesn't appear they're close to any conclusion.