The Pasqua First Nation is threatening the Saskatchewan government with a judicial review unless the province reconsiders and orders an environmental assessment for a controversial water drainage proposal at Last Mountain Lake.

Chief Todd Peigan says his band, which is downstream from the lake, wasn't given a chance to weigh in. 

"The province cannot unilaterally and negatively impact First Nation lands without first consulting with those First Nations," he said.  

Toronto law firm hired 

The First Nation is the latest group to oppose the project, which would see a group of landowners and farmers from the Quill Lakes area redirect seven million cubic metres of surface water from Kutawagan Lake and Pel Lake into Last Mountain Lake, located about 40 kilometres northwest of Regina.

The Pasqua own and use land near Last Mountain Lake — a prime spot for walleye fishing — and are worried about the quality of water (particularly the level of salinity and agricultural chemicals) that will end up in Last Mountain Lake and downstream near the Pasqua reserve.

The Quill Lakes

There used to be two Quill Lakes, according to the Water Security Agency: Big Quill Lake and Little Quill Lake. But water levels have risen, forming one big lake and spurring drainage efforts. (Water Security Agency)

"The province started this whole process by allowing those farmers and ranchers to drain their land into the Quill Lakes," said Peigan. "And now they're trying to resolve it by assuming they're going to create a channel around the Quill Lakes to drain the water."

The First Nation has hired a Toronto law firm, Fogler Rubinoff, to press its case for an environmental review or, failing that, file for a judicial review of the government's decision. 

Jack Coop, the lawyer on the case, says the ministry's decision to forgo an environmental assessment is "illegal" because the ministry didn't consult the First Nation — Peigan says he heard of an engagement session in Fort Qu'Appelle purely by word of mouth.

Coop also cited the ministry's overlooking "widespread public concern" generated by the plan, which the province has refused to share publicly.

The Quill Lakes Watershed Association, which is behind the proposal, declined to comment.

The project's move to the permitting process (under the Water Security Agency) was approved by assistant deputy minister Wes Kotyk.

No duty to consult: province

Kotyk has told CBC the decision to skip an environmental assessment did not trigger the formal duty to consult First Nations, though he did not explain why.

He added that "there may still be potential for duty to consult through the permitting process with the Water Security Agency."

Peigan said Wednesday the government had not responded to a letter sent by Coop on Nov. 2.

He said he and Coop would decide on Monday whether to press for a judicial review. 

Read the law firm's letter to the ministry below. Can't see it? Click here. 

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Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Chief Todd Peigan's name.
    Nov 09, 2017 3:17 PM CT