Kehewin Cree Nation had the opportunity to sit down with the Alberta Minister of Indigenous Relations, the Honourable Richard Feehan, on December 19th to discuss a number of important topics, projects, and initiative the Nation is working on. While discussing plans for a new waterline, that’ll draw water from Kehewin Lake, the question of the safety of Highway 41 being so close to the body of water was brought up.
Councillor for Kehewin Cree Nation, Vernon Watchmaker explains that the highway is constantly under construction where the road bends along the lake. The highway, which is used by big trucks to transport oil and other dangerous goods, poises a real danger to the body of water. “About two and a half year ago, Tribal Chiefs, with Associated Engineering, were granted some funding to do a study to see if we had a secondary source of water for our community. They did the study, they had five test wells and it came back all negative. We didn’t have a good aquafir to use as a secondary source.” Councillor Watchmaker explains the study reinforced the importance of Kehewin Lake and maintaining its cleanliness.
With the road under construction, the curve in the highway and the instability of the roadway itself; what would happen if a truck, carrying dangerous goods, had an accident on the Highway and went into the lake?
“Being that it’s our only primary water source, we need to protect it. That road beside that lake, it’s only 50 feet on an incline. We have trucks that carry oil and chemicals; most of it doesn’t have guardrails. It takes one incident, and then that lake is done.” Councillor Watchmaker explained to Minister Feehan that there have been discussions, among Kehewin Council, that the road be rerouted; but they are unsure how to go about taking the discussion to the action phase. “That way we can secure that lake and secure our water source.”
Benjamin Badger, Councillor for Kehewin Cree Nation, says there is more at stake, “we have a responsibility to the water, to keep it safe. Right now, there is nothing in place. How do we create a source protection plan for the lake?”. Badger explains it’s not only the transportation near the lake that poses a danger, there is also agricultural factors; such as spraying chemicals on crops. “There should be a radius of zero activity, around the lake, especially if we’re source it for our main water.”
Construction on the highway appears to be near complete for the season, with crews moving out of the area over the past week. Crews were previously working on the roadway by installing pilings under the road to assist in the stability of the highway. Council for Kehewin has a general feeling that the pilings are a band-aid solution and would like to see something more permanent and stable for the roadway.
Minister Feehan suggested that Council put in a request with the Minister of Transportation, Brian Mason, to see if anything can be done to alter the roadway or to put up more safeguards (guardrails) to better protect the body of water.