I have heard that some farmers are concerned about new developments in provincial water management and drainage in Manitoba.
However, I am convinced the two proposed strategies announced re-cently by the provincial government are positive news.
In the short term, we will see expedited minor drainage projects, and in the long term, we will see solutions to perennial flooding and drainage issues.
Conservation and water stewardship minister Gord Mackintosh made it clear during his announcement of the new strategies that farmers need to be able to be productive on their land, and the goal is to have “sustainable drainage” as a tool for all farmers.
The Surface Water Management Strategy takes an all-encompassing view of water drainage across Manitoba, including agricultural, municipal and industrial. Keystone Agricultural Producers has been pressing for a comprehensive water management strategy, and we are pleased that it appears it is finally coming to fruition.
Instead of working with individual drainage issues, the strategy proposes to address entire watersheds and their inter-connectivity.
If done correctly, the strategy’s 50 proposed actions will drastically reduce the effects of flooding and drought. They would also mitigate the effects of terminal basins, such as Whitewater Lake and Shoal Lakes.
The other plan, Towards Sustainable Drainage, outlines new drainage regulations that no longer re-quire producers to complete a lengthy approval, inspection and licensing process for minor drainage projects. They will simply register the drainage work with the province, and then proceed with work in a timely manner.
KAP was a part of the stakeholder group that consulted with the province on these regulations, and I believe we have done our job well.
Because these minor projects account for most of the drainage in Manitoba, this will be a huge step forward in getting land into production that may otherwise risk flooding every year.
The proposed regulations also address drainage of permanent and semi-permanent wetlands, which make up only a small portion of farmers’ drainage work.
It is now difficult to get a licence to drain a wetland, but the proposed new system establishes a formal process that will strictly define the criteria that a landowner must meet. This includes mitigating the downstream effects associated with removing a permanent wetland by reconstructing or retaining wetlands in other parts of the watershed.
The province has also proposed increasing enforcement to address illegal drainage projects, and I anticipate that these simplified regulations will provide clarity for both landowners and water resource officers.
KAP has always maintained that farmers must be compensated when land is taken out of production in the interest of watershed health.
The proposed regulations also allow tile drainage through a simple registration process if the projects meet basic criteria and do not involve draining permanent or semi-permanent wetlands.
I have heard that some municipalities are concerned about incorrectly installed tile drainage projects having negative impacts, which is why the issue will be the focus of a government-stakeholder working group.
Light detection and radar digital imagery that produces accurate data for land elevation is another important technology.
KAP has lobbied for the use of this technology on a large scale because it is an excellent resource in land and water management planning, and now we see the province has committed to using it.
However, the work being done in Manitoba cannot stop at the borders.
Our neighbours to the south and to the west are also home to watersheds that eventually flow into this province, and now they must do their parts to adopt similar measures.
Manitoba can no longer be a recipient for unwanted water originating beyond its borders, and a multi-jurisdictional effort can recognize and solve this longstanding problem.
Doug Chorney is president of Keystone Agricultural Producers.