Legislative amendments to support Saskatchewan’s agricultural drainage regulations introduced last year will further strengthen the move to curb illegal drainage and better manage water, says the minister in charge.
Changes to the Water Security Act were introduced in the last days of the fall session. The spring sitting begins March 6.
Environment Minister Scott Moe said the legislation will streamline the complaints process. Complaints should now be handled within 90 days rather than two or three years.
The bill clarifies that drainage works constructed before 1981 now require a permit and may be altered or closed by the Water Security Agency without compensation.
It also changes the fines for unauthorized drainage under the Environmental Management Protection Act, boosting them to a maximum of $1 million per day if a court so chooses.
Moe said the amendments support the regulations announced in September 2015 and the shift from a complaints-based system to a permit-based system.
“We’re dealing with bringing works into compliance in certain areas where we have significant challenges,” he said in an interview.
“As well, we’re bringing them in across the province as complaints come in.”
He said the permits are based on two principles: that landowners need permission to move water to someone else’s property and that an adequate outlet downstream must be available. Several basins have extremely high water levels and are no longer adequate outlets.
Drainage works are closing in the Quill Lakes because the lakes can’t handle any more water. The WSA is working with the watershed association and rural municipalities on how best to manage water in the region.
“We are actively looking at all drainage in that particular area because of the lack of adequate outlet that we feel we have there at this moment in time,” Moe said.
“If we’re going to put water into systems in the province, we need to be able to prove that we can control how much goes in and when it goes in, and the best way to do that is through a proper gated system at the source.”
Water must be held back if a landowner can’t get permission to drain because there is no adequate outlet, he said.
This could result in culverts with gates or closure of works to bring water back to the natural spill point. Adequate outlets will change over time, he added.
For example, water may need to be held back during spring runoff until a river can handle more.
The government is keen on working with appropriate authorities to organize drainage systems.
Moe said watershed associations can leverage money from other levels of government to help pay for projects, while conservation and development authorities can collect levies from landowners to construct and maintain projects.
Moe agreed that local politics can sometimes get in the way of these projects.
“But I would add to that if we are going to construct successful, organized, safe drainage systems that benefit our agricultural industry in the province of Saskatchewan and be able to control the impacts downstream, we need to rise above any disagreements we may have at any level and work together for the greater good for all of our communities,” he said.