Farmers and municipalities say they are curious to see how effective new agricultural drainage regulations will be as they are phased in over the next 10 years.
The long-awaited new rules, announced Sept. 1, will bring all drainage into compliance, including works constructed before 1981, and will still require a landowner complaint before action can be taken because there is no official monitoring.
But environment minister Herb Cox said he expects that a simplified approval process and the ability for landowners to sign agreements with each other without obtaining easements will mean more farmers will follow the rules and result in less unauthorized drainage.
He said the previous regulations were more prescriptive rather than risk-based and that bogged down the approval system.
He also said he expects Water Security Agency staff will be able to deal with complaints sooner.
A lack of enforcement is a long-standing criticism of the agency and its forerunners.
An agency survey last year found most respondents wanted better enforcement and stiffer penalties.
Ray Orb, president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, said those concerns are not specifically addressed in these regulations.
“We are still hoping they’re going to go that route,” he said.
Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan president Norm Hall also said further details and policy development will determine how effective the new rules are.
Other key changes include ensuring that mitigation of any impacts related to flooding, water quality and habitat loss are addressed during approval and enabling qualified persons, such as consultants, to help design higher-risk works.
Two basins, the Souris near Stoughton and the Assiniboine near Canora, will be pilot project areas to develop and refine the policies.
“We can’t deal with the whole province at one time so we’re picking these two areas because there are a lot of works in those areas that we know of,” Cox said.
That doesn’t mean farmers in other parts of the province who have works or want approval can’t apply, he said.
Cox said the WSA is still working on penalties for failure to comply.
He said the concern about lack of enforcement should be eased by a less cumbersome system and requiring older projects to comply.
“There is a substantial backlog in complaints that were received,” he agreed.
Now, if a complaint is made, the WSA will be able to quickly check to see if the works were approved. Previously, staff had to inspect to see if the works were built before 1981.
Ducks Unlimited Canada director of prairie regional operations Scott Stephens said the regulations are a good first step.
However, that organization wants more details on how drainage effects on wetlands will be mitigated. Alberta already has a process in place and Manitoba is close to implementing one.
“If this due process doesn’t either reduce the amount of drainage or compensate for the drainage that happens with restorations elsewhere, then you’re still going to have negative impacts that are passed on to someone else,” Stephens said.
Alberta proponents pay up to $8,000 per acre for mitigation while in Manitoba the cost is expected to be about $6,000 per acre.
Ducks Unlimited works to find producers who want to restore wetlands to help mitigate drainage by others.
“It’s just figuring out what sort of magnitude of drainage there is going to be allowed moving forward and then finding the mitigation to deal with that,” he said.