Flood agency defends $1.5M for music fest

Taxpayers are footing most of the bill to provide flood relief for the popular Craven Country Jamboree, set to begin in three weeks in Craven, Sask.
Many parts of the Craven Country Jamboree site are still under water, less than three weeks before the music festival is to kick off. (CBC)

Taxpayers are footing most of the bill to provide flood relief to a popular music festival set to begin in three weeks in Craven, Sask.

The site of the Craven Country Jamboree is under water, including the campgrounds where nearly 8,500 people usually stay during the event.

So organizers applied for financial help under the provincial government's new emergency flood protection fund.

The Saskatchewan Watershed Authority is defending its decision to give more than $1.5 million to the jamboree — money that will help build berms to hold the water back.

"What we were looking at was how the business met the criteria for the emergency flood damage reduction program, and it did, so therefore it would qualify," authority staff Gord Will said.

Kim Blevins says the jamboree will find a way to accommodate people who want to camp out. ((CBC))

"Craven has been around for quite many years, and they've had flooding problems from time to time. This should alleviate those concerns for them and help ensure that the jamboree continues on into the future."

The total cost of putting up dikes and pumping out water is $1.8 million, with the festival covering the difference.

But all that cash still can't guarantee that the campgrounds will be ready by July 14, when performances get underway.

"We're still trying to pump the water out. But we've been getting some news from the watershed authority about more water coming down the river," said Kim Blevins, the jamboree's marketing and communications director.

"We will deal with the camping issue. We will take care of people whether it's on site or somewhere else."

Blevins said the event should have access to the money just like "any other business around the community."

"For the last seven years, we have not had any government assistance. We've been doing this on our own, we've been coming out here every year, we've been pumping $6 million into the local economy every year, and this was the year we needed help."

The festival says it draws 23,000 people a day to the Qu'Appelle Valley just northwest of Regina. Past performers include Dolly Parton, John Denver, Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson and Reba McEntire, while this year's schedule has names like Lonestar, Gretchen Wilson and Tequila Wranglers.

More than a thousand projects have applied for money from the province's $23-million emergency flood protection fund.