A leading environmental protection organization wants the Manitoba government to aggressively fine farms that breach water licence conditions.
It says the fines could fund more water licence policing in a time of severe budget cutbacks.
“If we have problems with the government not having money to send people out to monitor this when there are violations, then maybe we should put severe fines in place and then there’s a lot more money to go and deal with this,” said Eric Reder of the Wilderness Committee, which recently issued a news release condemning the Manitoba government for not cracking down on a western Manitoba farm that it says is breaking the conditions of its irrigation licence.
The organization said the farm is allowed to operate only four pumps to take water out of the Little Saskatchewan River but is instead running five pumps.
The provincial government disagreed with the Wilderness Committee’s view that the number of pumps matters.
“The licence regulates the volume and rate that is pumped removed (sic) for irrigation, it does not specify how many pumps can be used to lift water from the Little Saskatchewan River,” said a provincial government statement released after the Wilderness Committee’s news release.
“Provincial officials have toured the site and calculated that the working pumps are within licence parameters.”
Regardless of how the licence conditions are interpreted, the Wilderness Committee said the underlying reality is that the provincial environment department is doing a poor job of reviewing licences, enforcing compliance and adequately dealing with appeals of granted licences.
For example, Reder said the licence of this particular farm has been under appeal by activists for more than a year and it is unclear when the appeal will be completed or the findings publicized.
“If appeals take this long, we don’t have any confidence in how this thing works so that we can believe that it will work,” said Reder.
“For us, being watchdogs of the public lands and waters, we see that there are Environment Act licence problems.”
Reder said the focus on water licences and compliance is part of the growing issue in Manitoba over water quality and downstream water pollution.
The provincial government might say it doesn’t have the resources to quickly assess every situation, but “that doesn’t get us off the hook when we look at future generations and they ask us why we didn’t protect the water,” he added.