Program pays for restoring sloughs

The program will provide compensation after assessing environmental benefits of each project

Landowners in east-central and southeastern Saskatchewan who want to close old drainage ditches and restore sloughs could be eligible for financial help.

Four watershed associations — Assiniboine, Lower Qu’Appelle, Upper Souris and Lower Souris — obtained funding through the National Conservation Plan to offer a program that will pay $2,000 per acre of restored wetland over a 10-year term.

Aron Hershmiller, manager of the Assiniboine Watershed Stewardship Association, said names and possible sites have been coming into the offices, and the partners will meet to determine the best projects.

“We’ll be looking at the best 200 acres of wetlands,” he said.

Six or seven applicants have well-defined drainage ditches that would represent good restoration projects, he added.

The work will be done this fall.

Hershmiller said the projects will be assessed using an environmental benefit index. Contracts will be drawn up and landowners will begin receiving payments after the construction is done.

The program focuses on ditches dug long ago through cropland. Natural drainage runs are not eligible.

“The only criteria is if any drainage has taken place in the last five years, the restoration isn’t eligible,” he said.

The benefits to restoring sloughs include filtration, water storage and wildlife habitat. Hershmiller said farmers recognize that wetlands are important and provide benefits.

“Some people are penciling it out and looking at their options,” he said.

It’s a good deal at $200 per acre (per year) for 10 years, he said.

For example, a landowner would receive $40,000 if 20 acres on a quarter were restored to wetlands. In some cases, landowners might also take advantage of programs to convert land to forage, which also provide money.

Renting out that land might offer even more income.

“They might actually make more money on the land than when it is in cropland,” Hershmiller said.

Participants will have to sign a contract agreeing not to disturb or breach ditch plugs during the 10-year period.

Ducks Unlimited is also offering a one-time payment of up to $1,500 per acre for landowners who are willing to put perpetual conservation easements on restored wetlands.

Since 2009, the Assiniboine association has worked with partners such as Water Security Agency and the highways ministry to restore 300 acres of wetlands. Other watersheds have undertaken similar projects.

Hershmiller said this particular project will run again next year.

Contact karen.briere@producer.com

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