Eagle Creek Watershed Group hold Annual General Meeting.
On June 25th the Eagle Creek Watershed Group hold their Annual General Meeting and Tour in Biggar. Kevin Olson, the president from Plenty, went over accomplishments of the board over the past year. The group now has a functioning website with valuable information for local producers. Jim Cholin, the treasurer from Kerrobert, gave an overview of the financial situation of the board. At the meeting Ryan Heather from Biggar joined the board and Grant Anderson from Rosetown stepped down from the board.
Glenn Barclay, the technician for the board, gave an overview of the structure of the board and its' mandate. There are 21 rural municipalities in the Eagle Creek Watershed. Sometimes producers are confused between what the Eagle Creek Watershed and the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency are and what their mandates are.
In May 2000 there was an E. coli outbreak in Walkerton Ontario where seven people died and over a thousand became ill. In the spring of 2001 there was a Cryptosporidium outbreak in North Battleford. Thousands became ill and about 50 were hospitalized. Justice Robert Laing completed a report in March 2002 on the safety of the public drinking water in North Battleford.
The Saskatchewan Watershed Authority was formed in October 2002 as a part of the provincial Safe Drinking Water Strategy. The mandate was to protect and manage Saskatchewan water supplies. In October 2012 the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency was created with an expanded mandate from the old Watershed Authority. A 25 year plan with seven goals was released at the same time.
Glenn Barclay explained the Eagle Creek Watershed Group is one of 13 Agri-Environmental Group Plans in the province. The water shed groups only address two programs; the environment and rural water infrastructure areas under the Growing Forward Two federal-provincial framework of agricultural programs. There are eight program initiatives in total under the Growing Forward Two framework.
Barclay pointed out farmers can access funds through 24 beneficial management practices under seven categories in the farm stewardship program. These beneficial management practices address environmental issues faced by Saskatchewan producers.
The Farm and Ranch Water Infrastructure can provide funding for up to 50% of eligible costs for developing water sources for agricultural purposes. Well decommissioning can receive a grant for up to 90% of eligible costs.
A tour of the land which has not been broken and has not been grazed in over ten years.
After lunch the attendees travelled to a native prairie site on John and Janice Christensen's property south of Biggar. This land has not been broken and had not been grazed in over ten years. Our tour guides were two Saskatchewan Agriculture forage specialists; John Hauer from Kindersley and Sarah Sommerfeld from Outlook as well as Glenn Barclay the Eagle Creek watershed technician from Biggar. We were showed some fascinating plants that grow on Saskatchewan prairies.
Winterfat is a native rangeland shrub that grows in the mixed grasslands of the prairies. It has high nutritional value for domestic livestock and wild animals. It is very palatable. It is a deep rooted, drought tolerant, long-lived perennial. Sarah Sommerfeld showed the crowd that Winterfat does not have a sage odour when you rub it between your fingers. This helps distinguish it from sage and sagebrush which does have a strong sage odour. According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Winterfat protein levels peak at 15% in the spring, holds steady at 14% into the fall and varies between 8% and 11% through the winter months. In comparison, Western wheatgrass, follows a seasonal protein pattern similar to many native grasses. It would be around 11% protein in the spring, 9% protein in the fall then drop to about 5% in the winter months. Winterfat is highly sought out by grazing animals so it generally is quite a rare plant in pastures around the area. It was an exciting find for the cattle producers on the tour.
John Hauer showed the group the difference between sedges and grasses. Sedges are a grass like plant. A common saying is "sedges have edges". This is because the stem is three sided rather than the round grass stem. When viewed from above sedge leaves come off in three directions from the stem. Grass leaves come off in two directions from the stem. Currently experts say there are 103 sedge species in Saskatchewan with many being in the northern part of the province.
In Saskatchewan there are 173 species of grasses. Experts tell us that there are 124 native grasses (51 are rare) and the rest have been introduced. Our tour guides; John Hauer, Sarah Sommerfeld and Glenn Barclay showed us how to identify grasses using vegetative features. We were shown auricles, small appendages at the junction of the stem and leaf blade and ligules, another small appendage at the base of the leaf blade. We saw several native grass species such as Hooker's oat grass, Western and Northern wheatgrass. John Hauer told us that identification of grasses is important because some valuable species decrease as grazing pressure increases and some less desirable grasses increase in the stand.
The tour attendees and the Eagle Creek Watershed Group board were very appreciative that the Christensen's allowed us to look at their native pasture.