10 of the South Saskatchewan River tributaries/creeks were assessed in 2015 to determine their riparian and fish population health conditions. The attached reports reveal that 70 percent of the tributaries are in poor riparian and fish habitat/population health. Numerous risks are impacting the creeks which include nutrient loading, loss of riparian edge, manmade impediments and erosion. I encourage the Rural Municipalities and landowners to protect their creeks and ravines by adopting Best Management Practices (BMP), such as remote watering. Creek BMPs can be identified in the attached “Protection of Your South Saskatchewan River Creeks Factsheet” and the AEGP newsletters. The SRRWS is working with several organizations (funding and support) to address creek impediments and impacts by implementing BMPs and creek enhancement activities. The two creeks that the SSRWS and supporters will be addressing this year is the Opimihaw Creek (Near Saskatoon) and Coteau Creek (Lake Diefenbaker). The SSRWS look forward to the support from the local Rural Municipalities, communities and organizations.
What are creeks?
There are many names given for free flowing water through a drainage area into larger river or lake. It has been called a stream, tributary, brook or creek. In Saskatchewan, the majority of them are called creeks. There are approximately 25 creeks in the South Saskatchewan River drainage watershed. These creeks all feed into the Saskatchewan River and eventually feed into Lake Winnipeg. The South Saskatchewan River creeks are very important areas and must be respected and protected.
Why are they important?
Creeks are places of great biodiversity. They help prevent flooding and improve the quality of water before it flows into the South Saskatchewan River. Preserving creeks helps fight climate change by storing carbon. Creeks are home to many animals and provide them with resting, nesting, and feeding places. Plants that grow within and on the edges of creeks strain silt and debris from water and absorb pollutants. Overall, creeks are important for healthy fish populations, and maintaining water quality of the South Saskatchewan River for agriculture use, human consumption, and recreational use.
The creeks and tributaries of the South Saskatchewan River have suitable conditions to support life processes of various fish species. Fish species such as northern pike, walleye, white sucker, yellow perch, and sticklebacks utilize these creeks for spawning and rearing. The health of these fish is in turn dependent on the health of the creeks. Some factors that negatively impact fish habitats in creeks are overhanging culverts, human-modified stream channels, damming, storm water runoff, and soil erosion. Fish are not only important for maintaining a healthy creek ecosystem, but also provide benefits to humans as food sources and recreation.
Water quality within the creeks is important for the many fish species that inhabit these waters and also for the health of plant species along creek vegetation zones. Drinking water has the highest quality when it is free from microbiological, chemical, and physical factors that pollute the streams. Parasites can be transferred into the water through human or animal wastes which also decrease the water quality for human and animal consumption. The quality of water can also be reduced by the unintentional addition of chemicals to the creeks. Runoff of chemicals such as gasoline, oil, pesticides, and waste products may be harmful to both humans and animals that utilize the water for drinking. Physical changes in water quality include changes in color, taste, and odor which can be caused by toxins from blue-green algae (cyanobacteria).
The South Saskatchewan River creeks are important for agriculture uses. Farmers use the creeks and river for irrigation, drinking water for livestock, and recreation. Runoff from fields can affect the water quality of creeks by washing pesticides and fertilizers into the creek from the surrounding field crops.
How to protect them:
There are many ways to protect our creeks and tributaries from the environmental impacts of agricultural practices, landfills, creek impediments, and storm water management.
Overhanging culverts interfere with the flow of these creeks and tributaries so it is beneficial to properly install culverts and account for normal fluctuations in water flow. Nutrient loading from runoff into the creek can cause algal blooms to form which can be toxic and reduce water quality. In order to maintain good health of the stream while still applying chemicals to fields, it is important to have a riparian buffer zone. A riparian buffer zone is a vegetated area along the edge of the stream that separates the agricultural zone and the creek. Riparian buffer zones are good for deterring agricultural chemicals and erosion sediment runoff because they physically trap and absorb these pollutants before they enter the stream. Excessive erosion is a concern for creeks because it can destroy the creek bank and add unwanted sediment to the stream.
One method to help reduce erosion, destruction of the stream bank, and unwanted animal wastes from entering the creek is off-site watering. Livestock producers can establish remote watering sites and riparian fencing to encourage their livestock from degrading the creek banks and negatively impacting the water quality.
Landfills can have a significant impact on creeks and tributaries. Water can get released from these sites which can affect the quantity of water that is in the creek as well as the chemical composition of the water. Rain runoff from landfills can also contaminate creeks by transporting chemicals and pollutants into the creek. Waste from landfills can also infiltrate into the groundwater through precipitation and contaminated water. Landowners and farmers can participate in waste management BMPs provided by several agricultural programs.
Buffer zones also help reduce the impacts of storm water on creeks. Stormwater washes a variety of pollutants into creeks and can also cause flooding when the amount of water exceeds what the creek can support. Buffer zones help filter pollutants from runoff and also slow water and increase absorption which helps reduce the risk of flooding.
Agricultural producers, homeowners and urban residents can preserve and protect the creeks by adopting best management practices, such as the ones mentioned above. The South Saskatchewan River creeks are yours to enjoy and protect.
For more creek protection information, please contact the South Saskatchewan River Watershed Stewards
Funding support from the Environment Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Contribution Program