Pay farmers now or pay through tax later

There has been a discussion going on for a few years about whether society should be paying farmers to maintain natural habitats, such as bluffs of trees, pothole ponds and slough wetlands.

There are those who see merit in such payments, but governments, which hold the purse strings on proposals like these, have never em-braced the idea.

Their reluctance is understandable because a move toward those kinds of payments would come with significant costs, even if they could be spread out.

There is no reason a farmer should pay land taxes on wetlands and tree stands deemed worthy of government support.

As well, the fees paid by government need not equal the gross dollars a farmer might have earned the previous year from the sale of a lucrative canola crop.

It would be more reasonable if the fee was based on averaging various crops over the long term on the acreage taken out of production.

Details need to be worked out to make it affordable to government and worthwhile to farmers, but it is time to look at the issue again.

The reason for the renewed interest in such a program should be clear to anyone who has been paying attention to reports of extreme rain that has fallen in eastern Saskatchewan and western Manitoba.

The rain came steadily over three or four days and overwhelmed what is left of the land’s natural water handling system.

Over the years, we have cleared, drained, dammed, built roads and generally changed the landscape to suit our needs.

However, nature is not easily controlled, and the recent rain showed that.

The overwhelming precipitation fell on ground that was already wet or in many places still frozen, which limited the land’s ability to absorb water. This caused the water to run and flow freely over open spaces.

In its natural state, most of the affected area would have been pock-marked by potholes, sloughs and bluffs.

Tree stands slow water flows, while potholes and sloughs are natural holding reservoirs for water.

Individually, they do little in the face of a major flow event. Combined, they contain thousands of gallons of water and prevent large amounts from flowing onward.

Major torrents like those created by the recent heavy rains do not simply flow over a road — they wash it away.

Culverts and bridges have now washed out on many roads in the region.

The cost of fixing the damaged roads and infrastructure will take months and millions of dollars.

So the question is whether retained sloughs, paid for by society through special government funding programs, could have spread out the rebuilding costs that many communities in the region now face.

And would such programs have eased the personal hardships brought on by the floods?

That is a question for people with more expertise than I, but it is a question that needs to be publicly asked and answered.

Calvin Daniels is assistant editor with Yorkton This Week newspaper in Yorkton, Sask.