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Open house sees open discussion on watershed’s future

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The Emo-La Vallee Community Centre was the site of considerable discussion and an exchange of ideas yesterday at an open house on a Resource Stewardship Framework (RSF) for the fisheries of the Rainy River watershed.

The presentation showed what the RSF is about, what it’s trying to do, and what it has accomplished over the last 18 months.

Representatives from the various organizations and groups involved took in a 16-minute power point presentation that outlined the goals and achievements of the partnership, which is administered by Rainy River First Nations.

The open house was led by program co-ordinator is Martin Nantel and Wayne Wysocki of Symbion Consultants in Winnipeg, which will produce the final results.

The presentation was followed by lively debate from some of the representatives, who brainstormed solutions to existing problems confronting the Rainy River and the five drainage basins along the Canadian side.

Nantel told those on had the results of the 18-month project seem to indicate the river is healthy and so is the fish stock.

“Preliminary data indicates the fish are in fairly good shape,” said Nantel.

In addition to testing and monitoring the fish, the partnership also has been conducting aerial surveys of the watershed in an effort to identify changes in the landscape immediately adjacent to the waterways and any problems that may be associated with them.

This riparian zone—a sloping strip of land that separates water courses from upland areas—is deemed to be an important component of fish habitat since it acts as a buffer between the fish and activities on adjacent land.

The aerial surveys are now complete and all that remains is for the photos to be interpreted and compared to other pictures from 1995.

This, said Nantel, will provide a solid indication of how land use has changed and whether those changes have affected the health of the watershed.

The monitoring was not confined to the Rainy River, however. The five major tributaries running through the district— La Vallee Creek, Everett Creek, Sturgeon Creek, Cameron Creek, and Pinewood River—also were included in the project.

Water samples were taken from 11 locations along these waterways on five different occasions between July 31 and Sept. 25.

In another project, 13 whole fish were taken from three sections of the river and sent to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to be tested for organic contaminants, while 200 fillets were sent to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment to be tested for the same things.

The results of those tests will be published shortly in the Guide to Eating Ontario Game Fish, which is published by the Ontario government.

One of the issues raised was increasing the degree of co-operation and co-ordination with similar projects under way across the river in Minnesota. Wysocki said a considerable amount of work and investment has been made on some of the feeder streams there.

“Minnesota has already done a lot of work on the Littlefork River,” said Wysocki. “Our research shows we need to collaborate more with them.

“There’s a lot of similarity in thinking on both sides,” he added.

Wysocki also noted the ongoing efforts in Minnesota are statewide as opposed to regional, as is the case here.

Another issue raised was the large degree of fluctuation in water levels, which in itself poses a threat to fish habitat.

Emo Reeve Russ Fortier noted the Americans have invested considerably more in dams and weirs on their side of the river to help stabilize that problem.

But without a similar effort on this side, maintaining good habitat will be difficult, he argued.

“The problem is the water fluctuates so much. How can you maintain good quality when it can change by 15 feet?” Reeve Fortier asked.

“We need dams and fish ladders,” he added. “If we could just keep the water two feet higher during the summer, then fish could access more rivers for spawning.”

Reeve Fortier also reminded the group that high water levels can be a problem, too. “We’ve had two floods of the century in the last two years,” he quipped.

He also noted the fluctuating water levels were causing problems with Emo’s drinking water, which comes from the Rainy River and is tested twice a week. Some of the tests, he said, were positive for E. coli.

The town’s treatment system takes care of that, he said, but it still indicates there is some source of contamination.

Most of all, said Nantel, the purpose of yesterday’s open house was to allow all the interested parties to share their findings so any gaps in knowledge or information could be addressed.

The final results and recommendations will be published sometime this summer.

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