By Jensen, Randy on August 26, 2020.
It was a long-distance swim with a message for Nichole Robinson.
The 26-year-old swimmer from Lethbridge swam across the Oldman Reservoir on Saturday to alert the public of impacts to drinking water from open-pit coal mines proposed in the Eastern Slopes between Blairmore and Chain Lakes.
With the swim of just under 15 kilometres, her goal was to draw awareness to the implications of the Alberta government’s decision to rescind the Coal Policy and its associated environmental protections.
“I don’t think a lot of people know about it or at least know about it in the way that it could impact people in Lethbridge and further on,” said Robinson. “So I thought it was a cool way to do something unique to get some attention and see that this is going on and, if it matters to you, look into it and raise your voice. I just wanted to raise awareness. I think a lot of people that know about it are in that immediate area and the impact is a bit farther out.”
Robinson said Lethbridge receives 100 per cent of its water from the Oldman River watershed. The headwaters of the Oldman are located in the previously protected area that is now slated for open-pit coal mining and she’s frustrated with the lack of public consultation on decisions putting clean drinking water at risk.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a month and I wasn’t really too serious until about a week ago and then I thought ‘Let’s make this happen,'” said Robinson, who holds a degree in environmental science. “So the Livingstone landowners group has been really supportive of me and, given that we kind of put it together a little last minute, I’m amazed at how many people have shown interest and thanked me for doing this and that it means a lot to them. I haven’t got any negative feedback yet. I know there are two sides to every story and there are people who don’t agree with me and that’s OK. But for the most part it’s been really great for me.”
Having completed her swim Saturday afternoon, Robinson was hopeful southern Alberta families will get vocal.
“I’m hoping people realize this might impact them and their families and they’ll get on the phone and they’ll contact our local leaders, provincial and also federal. I’m not saying I can change everything and turn it all around. I just wanted to make people more aware and I’m hopeful that this will have an impact, especially the decision to rescind this policy.”
As for Saturday’s swim, it was a typical windy southern Alberta day.
“But it was OK,” said Robinson. “I think that actually pushed me along a little quicker and going the other way it would’ve been way harder. I didn’t really know what to expect. I have done some longer swims, but nothing quite that long. My husband was in a kayak to make sure I was OK. He was just giving me snacks and water and that kind of stuff. He probably had a bit harder time controlling the kayak. But it went really well. It was nice to have a few people there at the beginning and at the end to show their support.”
Saturday’s swim ended up being 14 km.
“It took me just over four and a half hours,” said Robinson. “I was a competitive racing swimmer. I really like the sport and I got involved in open water; it’s a different way to do it. A lot of people thought that was really far and I thought that might be a way to raise awareness.”
Robinson hopes Saturday’s swim makes waves away from the water.
“This is the first time I’ve ever done something like this and I was kind of intimidated to take this leap and make a stand and be public about it,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just easy to be complacent and say ‘Oh well, I can’t do anything about this.’ But the more people speak up, I think it does have an impact. I just want people to know if you have an opinion it’s OK to get out there and share it and let your leaders know.”
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