Acting now for a healthier future will make a difference says Dr. Peter Leavitt, newly named Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

By Jon Tewksbury Posted: September 24, 2018 6:00 a.m.

Dr. Peter Leavitt speaks to the importance of acting now to address pollution in the Qu’Appelle River Valley watershed.
Dr. Peter Leavitt speaks to the importance of acting now to address pollution in the Qu’Appelle River Valley watershed. UR External Relations

“If you want to understand the world around you, you need to look at what’s gone on in the past and then take a look into what the future might hold,” Dr. Peter Leavitt shared during a talk on the Qu’Appelle lakes at the Treaty Four Gathering in Fort Qu’Appelle on Friday night.

“This is all about looking to the future. The world is never the same…it’s always changing, just like the Qu’Appelle lakes. There are serious problems with the water,” said Leavitt, “including blooms of algae, some of which are toxic. Something’s going on here. It’s important for the future that we understand why this is happening today.”

Dr. Peter Leavitt, a professor in the Faculty of Science at the University of Regina and Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change and Society, was recently named a Fellow of the prestigious Royal Society of Canada. His work focuses on ecology and environmental change, and the management of ecosystem sustainability in southern Saskatchewan.

The Qu’Appelle River Valley Watershed, situated in Treaty Four territory and fed by the Qu’Appelle River, is comprised of ten lakes and reservoirs, including Diefenbaker, Buffalo Pound, Last Mountain, Wascana, Pasqua, Echo, Mission, Katepwa, Crooked, and Round. Leavitt’s team–part of the country’s longest-running fresh water research program, apart from the Government of Canada–has monitored water from these lakes every two weeks from June 1994 to the present, as well as 100 other lakes from within Treaty Four territory. Their findings indicate that it’s not just the Qu’Appelle lakes that are being adversely impacted by green algae. Of the 100 lakes tested, all had water that could not be consumed without treatment.

Algae blooms are common in these waters, and can be caused by a variety of factors, the most notable being nitrogen pollution. The source of nearly half of the nitrogen in the lakes is Regina, with its once nitrogen-laden wastewater. The good news, however, is that since the recent upgrade to the city’s wastewater treatment plant (which now allows for nitrogen removal) there should be close to 200% less green algae in the Qu’Appelle lakes, but the results won’t happen overnight.

“It took us a hundred years to pollute Pasqua Lake. We will not return it to its original condition in a few years. It’s going to take decades,” said Leavitt. He notes that Winston Churchill once said, “the further you look into the past, the further into the future you can see.”

He went on to suggest that there is more we can do to control pollution levels, including removing nutrients from other lake-side sources and working to control greenhouse gas emissions.

“Warmer water due to global warming will make the lakes greener,” said Leavitt. “Getting rid of the nutrients will make them less green.” And the less green the water, the healthier the ecosystem.

Living and working in Treaty Four territory, Leavitt has learned a lot about the land and its people. “Indigenous peoples have the right to the environment. The United Nations makes this abundantly clear; access to clean water is an inalienable human right,” says Leavitt. “We need to support Indigenous treaty rights. As treaty people ourselves, caring for the environment makes good sense for today and for generations to come.”

University of Regina President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Vianne Timmons, was on hand representing the University in the Treaty Four parade on Saturday, along with students from the Faculty of Science. The students provided a practical follow up to Dr. Leavitt’s Friday lecture by handing out wetland seed packets to a chilly but enthusiastic crowd. The small packets were comprised of native plant seeds, which sprinkled along the banks of wetlands and marshes, will produce flowering plants that attract pollinators such as butterflies and bees.

Watch footage from the parade here.