There are a lot of "ifs," but a lot of hope surrounding the situation at Waldsea Lake.The saline lake, which includes both a community of cabin owners and a regional park, had been hoping to open to the public this summer after massive flooding in the spring of 2007 shut them down for three summers.But it was not to be.Though the lake easily handled the runoff in the spring, and the park board was making plans to open the park on July 1, the large amount of rainfall - cabin owners estimate they've received 30 inches so far this year - meant that the lake area flooded again, which also meant that it was just too dangerous to have the public out there this year.The Journal caught up Waldsea Lake Regional Park board chairperson Naomi Ramsay at her Waldsea Lake cabin last week, to talk about the opening that wasn't, and what the situation looks like for next year.
The dire situation at the lake this year is pretty visible, even to the most casual observer. For running between Ramsay's cabin - and every other cabin at the lake - is a newly installed berm."On average, we've added about four feet," Ramsay said, as she stepped up onto what she referred to as the "new berm," which is holding back the lake, the level of which is up at least three feet this year.This new berm sits on top of the old berm, which was much wider - wide enough to drive a truck on - and which was installed a few years ago to protect the cabins from any further flooding like what happened in 2007. After the spring flooding that year, which ruined some cabins at Waldsea, and which left others very much damaged, the permanent berm that was installed was thought to be sufficient to protect the cabins. Behind the berm, cabins were raised so that they still had a clear view out to the lake.It was from that vantage point that many cabinowners watched the water level creep up to the berm's edge this year, as the rain kept falling.So the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority (SWA), who had been keeping a close eye on the lake, proposed to the park board that a temporary berm be placed on top of the old berm.The board went for that suggestion right away, Ramsay noted. There was really no discussion at all.And it proved to be the right move.Standing on the new berm last week, the top of the old berm is just visible under the water."If there was no (new) berm, we would have flooded again," Ramsay said as she pointed out the level of the old berm.The water level keeps rising a bit after every rain, she noted, but it does seem to be going down between rains, which is good news."It seems to be drying up, but slowly," she said as she walked along the berm.The berm has created some drainage issues during subsequent rainfalls around the lake, as it traps water around the cabins, sometimes underneath them, keeping the water from draining into the lake. But the SWA is allowing cabin owners to pump that water out at a few locations around the park."It can't drain any other way," said Ramsay.Walking south along the berm, what comes into sight very quickly is the old concession stand, which used to be on the beach. Now it and many trees around what was once the beach are surrounded by water. Those trees are starting to die off now."They've gone faster this year," Ramsay said of the trees. "Probably because they were already partially gone (from the 2007 flood)."This spring, Ramsay noted, things looked good at the park, which is why they'd planned to open for the first time since 2006."We thought this is it," she said. "We're going to start seeing water levels going down.... and they just kept going up."They planted trees, hired a park manager, and had plans for the concession. They had received some donated playground equipment and were going to get it installed near the beach. They'd even booked the hall for two dates in the summer."Then it just kept raining. If there was no rain, we would have been in pretty good shape. We would have been able to cope," Ramsay said. "If it had stopped at any point, it would have made a mess, but we would have been able to operate. Once it kept going, there was just no way," she noted.The one good thing, she noted, is that they had not actually paid for many things they'd planned on by the time they decided not to open.In June, the water was just a foot away from the concession when the board made the decision not to open this year, Ramsay reveals.Electrical outlets in the campground were also underwater at that point, Ramsay noted. "We knew there was no way we could open. It was just not safe," she said. Even with the power to those outlets turned off, they just didn't want to take the chance of someone getting hurt, and so the grand re-opening was postponed.What about next year?That depends on a lot of things going right."If we get through the winter... if (the lake) can handle the runoff, and if Dead Moose (Lake) holds... and if we don't have 30 inches of rain, maybe next year, things will be better," Ramsay smiled."If we're lucky enough... if we get through the winter, and spring comes... and we clean up, we would be able to open by next summer."The winter and spring will tell the tale for next year, she said. Despite all those ifs between the park and an opening to the public next year, the people who have cabins out at Waldsea, including those who sit on the park board, remain hopeful about the future."We're optimistic. But we've got to cautiously optimistic," she said. "But I hate to think we're not going to be here."After all, she said, her family has had a cabin at the lake since 1968, and others have had cabins for over 30 and 40 years."It would be sad to see it all go," she said, adding that it would also be a loss to Humboldt, as the residents there would lose the opportunities Waldsea affords them.But cabin owners and the board are still looking ahead with hope in their eyes. They know what's in store for them in terms of clean-up next year - they'll have to rip out the dead trees and replant to replace them, and pick up other debris from the flooding, as well as deal with the concession. Yet Ramsay can't help looking at the sand at the water's edge and smiling.They could see some beaches forming this spring, on top of the old berm, she explained, pointing out the fine sand that's visible just under the water line."The beach is definitely starting to form," she said.They are not expecting miracles next year. Because the water is so much deeper now, and because there hasn't been any long stretches of hot weather this summer, they know losing a lot of the water to evaporation isn't realistic.The best case scenario for them, she noted, is if there is no snow this winter.But there is nothing, really, they can do about the weather."You just cross your fingers and hope for the best," she said."We wont' stop until there no point," Ramsay said. "There's no point in giving up hope (until then)."The mantra among cabin owners, at least for now, is "Next year...""Next year, if things go well, we'll have lots for sale.... and we'll begin to move forward... people will start to build," Ramsay said."We just don't like to give up," she said, speaking on behalf of other cabin owners as well. "We like our lake, even with everything that's gone on. It's a wonderful place now, even, to go for a swim."The hope cabin owners have in the future of the lake is apparent in two brand new cabins at the north end of the park. Both have been worked on all summer, Ramsay noted. For all the flooding that's happened, they've actually only lost about five cabins of 60, Ramsay added. "The people who are here love the lake. It's quiet, restful," she said. "(People can) relax here."For the board, is a little harder to deal with another summer of closure this year, Ramsay agreed, because of the plans they made this spring. It's definitely disappointing, she noted. They were able to have an event at the hall this summer, she said - the booking was for some cabin owners who were very much aware of the situation at the lake. But they had to turn away some people who had booked seasonal campsites.As for the board, they were looking forward to getting things back to normal, and just looking after the day to day running of the park. Instead, they got another flood situation to deal with."It's discouraging... when you get knocked back," she said."If we get through the spring, we will be right back to planning a grand opening," she smiled.And they have some big plans for that. They want to bring the park back to what it was in the 1970s, a small park that geared towards families - a quiet, affordable place where you can take your kids to the beach.In time, she said, they'd like to fill in their old pit area and stock it with fish, and they are looking at bringing walking trails back and expanding them, using the berm as something to walk on, as well as wildlife areas around the lake. The berm, Ramsay explained, is considered temporary at this point, but it could be up five to 10 years, or even longer, if water levels don't drop."If it keeps the water out from under our front porches, I'm good with that," she laughed. "And I will be good with that for a long time."