It's still a good dam story


Revisionist history can make for some interesting conversations and revive some frustrations and criticism which is what Dams of Contention and author Bill Redekop did last week with the launching of the book in Estevan.

According to Redekop's revisiting of the records surrounding the Rafferty and Alameda Dam projects, it was a $310 million boondoggle that proved nothing other than the power of a political will to put a big project on the books by a desperate government.

The author makes a case that there are no redeeming features or facts surrounding these two dams, especially the Alameda Dam. At least Rafferty's reservoir provides coolant for the Shand Power Station, he notes in the book. The promises of recreation and irrigation have been unmet and, he argues, the the dams' ability to provide flood protection for downstream residents was pretty well demolished last summer.

While Redekop hammers home some interesting opinions, and will probably find more than a few flood victims of 2011 who can now agree with his assumptions, Dams of Contention, the book written more than 20 years after their construction, does not address or merely skips over facts that continue to support the concept of holding the water back on one of Saskatchewan's more erratic river systems.

Dams of Contention does not pretend to defend any aspect of the Rafferty and Alameda Dam project, while playing the negative card.

The author misses a few historical facts in the missive, and chooses to gloss over, ignore or dismiss the dam advantages. That's his privilege.

For instance, in the 20 years since their commissioning, the dams have provided significant flood protection and a lot of recreational opportunities. Their value in drought seasons does not need to be amplified here, they are just that obvious.

Granted, the anticipated irrigation projects have not materialized, but that's not the fault of the dams or the developer. To declare that the valley land that was yielded and replaced by large volumes of controlled and retained waters was more valuable than what is there now just doesn't fly. Water is more than a mere commodity, it's a life force ... as important as oxygen and sunshine. To finally ensure the presence of water control in an area where dams had been discussed as a priority for more than 80 years prior to their construction was, and is, to be applauded.

As George Hood, vice-president of the Souris Basin Development Authority, the group that got the dams built, noted in a recent e-mail, we could take a look back and see all the positives that emerged. He noted that 20 government agencies in the United States and Canada were at the table at one time or another, hammering out an agreement. When was the last time that happened? It was a textbook example of how a bilateral international contract can work. And to do it with a water project? Name another!

There isn't one.

The international joint agreements that focus on this unique waterway that flows from Saskatchewan to North Dakota and then back into Canada at Manitoba should be celebrated.

When you get an opportunity to make good use of water in Saskatchewan, you take it and run with it and use it wisely. We believe that is what is being done 20 years later and into the future.

Yes, there have been faults and there was last summer's freak temper tantrum from Mother Nature that nothing was going to control.

And we readily admit that the Rafferty and Alameda Dams were rift with political controversy and games playing from various bodies with vested interests. But the conclusion has to be that these may be Dams of Contention, but they are also dams that are needed and no post conceived conceptions or misconceptions will be able to change that fact.

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