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Province unveils new surface water management strategy

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The province wants to stop the destruction of natural wetlands and swamps, which act as a filter before water goes into Lake Winnipeg.

STEVE LAMBERT / CANADIAN PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

The province wants to stop the destruction of natural wetlands and swamps, which act as a filter before water goes into Lake Winnipeg.

The Selinger government’s proposed plan to clean up Lake Winnipeg, and protect against a drought, includes tapping into its $5.5-billion infrastructure renewal plan.

The government says the $320 million set aside for flood protection and water control works will include surface water management projects, including tighter rules on agriculture drainage and developing water retention ponds to hold more excess water on the land. The money is in addition to about $4 million for on-farm water retention projects over the next five years through conservation districts, the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Ducks Unlimited Canada.

It’s part of the province’s new surface water management strategy released today by Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh.

Mackintosh said the blueprint at this point is just a consultation document with the goal of finalizing it — and creating regulations to back it up — over the next year.

You can comment on the proposed strategy.

By better managing excess water in the Lake Winnipeg drainage basin, Mackintosh said that would reduce the amount of nutrients going into the lake that contribute to summer algae blooms.

At the same time the province wants to stop the destruction of natural wetlands and swamps, which act as a filter before water goes into the lake.

He said about 75 per cent of original wetlands in Manitoba have been drained since industrial development began on the prairies, much of that in areas such as the Red River basin.

"Today we’re announcing that we will protect permanent and semi-permanent wetlands in law," he said, adding the province will also move to protect seasonal wetlands, roughly 275,000 acres in the province that typically dry up in midsummer.

The province gets about 100 applications each year to drain these seasonal wetlands, he said.

To address that, the province will work with farmers to reduce the red tape for minor drainage applications, promote on-farm water retention projects and crackdown on illegal drainage projects through increased fines.

"This is not a no-loss of wetlands policy," Mackintosh said. "It’s not a moratorium on wetland drainage. Instead, it’s a flexible, no-net-loss of wetlands benefits policy.

"We’re not saying you can’t drain. But if you absolutely must, and there’s no alternative to draining, you have to make up for the loss of the benefits to the environment by at least three to one, and we’ll have a discussion as to what the ratio of the compensation ratio should be."

That could include adding new wetlands to a property or by the purchase of "wetland credits" through the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation Ducks Unlimited Canada.

All of that, he said, still has to be worked out.

He added it’s vital for the province to be seen to be addressing the problems on Lake Winnipeg to get other jurisdictions in the drainage basin, like Saskatchewan and North Dakota, to buy into the Lake Friendly Accord.

History

Updated on Wednesday, June 11, 2014 at 2:58 PM CDT: Writethru.

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