Manitoba wetlands policy upsets producers

Producers are frustrated by gov’t decision to prohibit drainage of sloughs that have semi-permanent or permanent ponds

No one is completely happy with Manitoba’s new policy on wetlands.

Pleasing no one isn’t ideal, but it suggests the province has done its job and found a compromise solution, says a spokesperson for Ducks Unlimited Canada.

“I think the Tories do deserve some credit for digging into this issue … and coming out with what we think is a pretty fair and balanced approach,” said Scott Stephens, director of regional operations for DUC.

“I think (this is) probably one of those situations where they are probably in the right place.”

In early October, the Manitoba government announced changes to Water Rights Act regulations, including efforts to remove red tape, which should streamline the approval process for draining small and temporary wetlands.

The province has also adopted a “no net loss” approach to wetlands.

Landowners who drain a wetland will have to compensate the province or mitigate the loss of the wetlands. They could pay for the construction of a similar wetland or establish a new slough on their own property.

However, the province has decided that landowners cannot drain Class 4 or 5 wetlands. Those are sloughs that have semi-permanent or permanent ponds.

That was a prudent choice, Stephens said, because many regions of Manitoba have already lost too many wetlands.

Some farmers, especially those in regions where six, seven or 10 sloughs are common on a half-section of land, would like to drain all the wetlands on the field and consolidate the water into one large pond.

That action is not possible if those wetlands fall into the Class 4 or 5 categories.

Keystone Agricultural Producers is frustrated with that aspect of the regulation. It was hoping that producers could drain all sloughs and mitigate the loss by creating an equivalent wetland.

“We are surprised that the provincial government reversed course on what was proposed during the consultation process in terms of Class 4 and 5 wetlands,” said Mitch Janssens, KAP vice-president. “These regulations can impede a farmer’s ability to control water on their land.”

The regulatory changes, for wetlands, are more complicated than advertised.

This spring, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister invested $52 million into the Growing Outcomes in Watersheds (GROW) program. The $52 million is for an endowment fund, which will be used to pay farmers for ecosystem services like preserving wetlands.

The GROW program is similar to the Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) model that exists in Prince Edward Island and a number of municipalities in Ontario and Western Canada.

It’s unclear how the program will work because the Tories haven’t provided details. But Ducks Unlimited is hoping that landowners will be paid for preserving Class 1 and 2 wetlands.

In the big picture, Manitoba has devised a wetlands policy that is part carrot and part stick.

“If you look across other jurisdictions, that’s the mix that’s been the most successful in maintaining all the benefits that wetlands provide. A sort of combination of incentives and regulation,” Stephens said.

“The government deserves some credit for coming up with that mix.”

Wetlands classification

  • Class I: Ephemeral wetlands typically have free surface water for only a short time after snow melt or storms in early spring.
  • Class II: Temporary wetlands are periodically covered by standing or slow-moving water. They typically have open water for only a few weeks after snow melt or several days after heavy storms. Water is retained long enough to establish wetland or aquatic processes.
  • Class III: Seasonal ponds are characterized by shallow marsh vegetation, which generally occurs in the deepest zone. They are usually dry by midsummer.
  • Class IV: Semi-permanent ponds and lakes are characterized by marsh vegetation, which dominates the central zone of the wetland, as well as coarse emergent plants and submerged cattails, bulrushes and pond weeds. These wetlands frequently maintain surface water throughout the growing season.
  • Class V: Permanent ponds and lakes have open water in the central zone, which is generally devoid of vegetation. Plants in these wetlands include cattails, red swamp fire and spiral ditchgrass.


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