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Muskrat Watershed Council looks for collaboration, not confrontation

By Ryan Paulsen, The Daily Observer

With the advent of the Muskrat Watershed Council, the plight of the water quality of Muskrat Lakes looks poised to take centre stage in Whitewater Region once again, but this time organizers hope to keep the conversation from taking the confrontational turn that it has done in the past.

"This can't be a blame game," says Doug Skeggs, former Ministry of Natural Resources information officer who is continuing work on the lake on a volunteer basis. "You can't pit one part of a community against another part of a community. You do have some people on Muskrat Lake who are very directly being impacted by the nutrient loading problem, but you've also got their neighbours out on the landscape who can help them find the solution moving forward."

For Skeggs, the crux of the issue is that while Muskrat Lake may show the worst of the symptoms of a sick ecosystem, the problem is much broader.

"Where the problem shows up is in Muskrat Lake, but where it comes from is a much bigger landscape."

That landscape includes a variety of stakeholders and representatives from different sectors.

Working on a solution, he says, "is going to involve engaging the agricultural community. It's going to involve engaging the neighbouring municipalities, and that goes all the way up to North Algona Wilberforce. Lake Dore and Mink Lake are both on the Muskrat watershed. That's how big the community is that we have to reach out to."

Historically, issues surrounding the lake have been more divisive in the community than collaborative, an issue that Rosalie Burton, the new council's first chairwoman, recognizes as a challenge that needs to be addressed first.

"I think what we have to do is make sure that we're focusing on the improvement of water quality as our objective," she says, "and a second one is just the quality of life in the watershed area. So the challenge is to have the various stakeholders come together and focus on the common ground that we do have. Once we have the first wins and the first successes, then we can focus a little more on the not-so-vanilla solutions."

Ryan Paulsen is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist.

Follow him on Twitter @PRyanPaulsen.

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