The changes coming to the Boundary Dam Power Station have caught the attention of the University of Regina.
With coal power generation set to be phased out across Canada by 2030, the school's biology department has undertaken a study in conjunction with SaskPower to study the impacts on the ecosystem when the coal plant is shut down.
"We seldom get the opportunity to manipulate a single thing about a lake on a scale like that," said professor Chris Somers, who is spearheading the project. "So we know that the warm water from coal generation is scheduled to be basically shut off by a certain date, and so that energy input into the system can have a variety of different effects, but of course the one that I'm interested in as somebody who likes fish and fishing, is what's going to happen to the fish community in the Boundary Dam Reservoir?"
In particular, Somers said the removal of warm water won't have as much of a dire impact on the largemouth bass population as you might think.
"I think it's important to realize that they do live in other parts of Canada in natural populations that are at the same latitude as Estevan," Somers said. "So there are largemouth bass populations in northern Ontario that would see a similar daylight length and similar weather profile to what southern Saskatchewan is like naturally."
"So it's not 100 per cent required for largemouth bass to have that warm water in order to survive. And so the question is, if we remove that hot water will they persist? And that's kind of the angle that we're coming at it from. If the warm water were to get turned off, the bass are not going to disappear overnight."
Somers adds that there are other fish species that factor into the equation as well.
"Will they be able to compete with other species like walleye and pike when the water is colder? And that ecological play out and balance is what we're interested in," Somers said.
Somers said he wasn't very familiar with natural gas, but has a good understanding of nuclear plants, which Boundary Dam could turn into if Estevan is awarded with a small modular reactor facility.
"That will definitely still need surface water for cooling, so if the Boundary Dam site were somehow retrofitted or equipped with a nuclear plant, then the warm water situation would be probably quite similar to what it is now or was just a short while ago, where lots of warm water would continue to flow into the reservoir," Somers said.
Somers said his team is also monitoring other species at the reservoir, including turtles.
"There is a ton of western painted turtles in Boundary (Dam)," he said. "Turtles in Saskatchewan are relatively few and far between, we're kind of at the northern range limit for them, so we're kind of fascinated by the turtle population there and hope to do some more work on them."
Somers said the long-term project started in 2021 and is slated to last until 2029, one year before the federal government wants coal phased out completely across the country.