Flooded Manitoba farmers blame western neighbour

KAP convention | Saskatchewan farm group leader accepts partial responsibility and says stricter laws are needed on illegal drainage

Some Manitoba farmers at the Keystone Agricultural Producers convention picked a familiar and easy target to blame for the Assiniboine River’s flood last year: Saskatchewan producers.

“This is about the longest flood I’ve ever seen, this spring and summer,” George Harrison of Oak Lake told Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan president Norm Hall.

“My understanding is that most of the water comes from the watershed in your province.”

Instead of denying responsibility, Hall accepted that upstream farmers helped create the Assiniboine’s problems.

“There’s a pile of draining that has happened in that area over the years that contributed to the flooding of Fishing Lake, that has happened to the rapid runoff that ended up flooding the whole Assiniboine system,” said Hall, who was part of a prairie farm leaders panel discussion at the convention.

However, Hall said the outflow of Fishing Lake is controlled, which means it mostly lengthened the flood season rather than causing it.

“That’s a controlled system,” said Hall.

However, he said APAS has been pushing the Saskatchewan government to bring in watershed management, and the government finally seems willing to support it.

“We have a good minister,” he said.

Water issues are always controversial in Manitoba, which are at the bottom of a number of watersheds and contains heavy land that drains poorly.

Downstream farmers are often incensed at upstream farmers’ drainage channels, although many downstream farmers also drain as much as they can.

Winnipeg residents often blame farmers for flooding and water quality problems in Lake Winnipeg, while the provincial government in recent years has blamed the hog industry for some of the water woes.

Many farmers point back at the city of Winnipeg, which regularly has sewer and sewage treatment overflows that go directly into the Red River.

They believe the provincial government targets farmers because they are easy to pick on since the NDP is elected in urban areas.

The “blame Saskatchewan” approach was seen during the flood of 2011, when the province was accused of having had faulty gauges on the Qu’Appelle River. The claim was found to be inaccurate but received much publicity.

Many KAP members have called over the years for watershed management, such as what has been done on the Tobacco Creek Watershed. New agriculture minister Ron Kostyshyn seems serious about bringing that forward.

“The day has come where the province, KAP, conservation districts, municipalities, provinces have to start working on the watershed plan,” said Kostyshyn, who was active with conservation district organizations before being elected to the legislature.

“Someday some people will be very sorry that they designed these drains because there will be days they wish they retained some of that water, that in dry years may not be that far away.”

Hall said Saskatchewan’s enforcement system for illegal drainage is toothless and needs better legislation.

“If you complain about it, they might get out to see you in two years, after all the red tape has been gone through,” said Hall, who lives in the Fishing Lake area.

“The worst they’ll make me do is push in my trench. Within a few months I can open it up again, then that two-year process starts again.”

Drainage is supposed to require permits, but “nobody’s doing it.”

About the author

Ed White's recent articles



Stories from our other publications