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Streamlined drainage regulations will help producers

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The Manitoba government recently announced two new plans for water management in the province, and while they won't take effect until a public-consultation process occurs, they will be positive for farmers.

The first document, Towards Sustainable Drainage, outlines new drainage regulations that mean producers will no longer need to complete a lengthy approval, inspection and licensing process for minor drainage projects. They will simply register the drainage work with the province and then proceed with work in a timely manner.

Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) was a part of the stakeholder group that consulted with the province on these regulations, and I believe we have done our job well. Since these minor projects account for the vast majority of the drainage undertaken, this will be a huge step forward in getting land into production that may otherwise risk flooding every year.

The second component of the proposed regulations addresses drainage of permanent and semi-permanent wetlands.

Currently, it is challenging to get a licence to drain a wetland, but in the proposed new system, a formal process would be established that will strictly define the criteria a landowner must meet in order to undertake this type of project. This includes ensuring any downstream effects associated with removing a permanent wetland are mitigated through the reconstruction or retention of wetlands in other areas of the watershed.

The province has also proposed an increase in the enforcement of regulations to address illegal drainage projects, and while there have been issues in the past when legal projects have come under unnecessary scrutiny, I anticipate these simplified regulations will provide clarity for both landowners and water resource officers.

KAP is committed to continuing to work with Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship to ensure enforcement of these regulations is done fairly and consistently throughout Manitoba.

While we accept these proposed wetland regulations, KAP has always maintained that in any situation in which land is taken out of production in the interest of watershed health that will benefit all of society, farmers must be compensated -- and we will continue efforts to make this happen.

Another component of the proposed regulations addresses the use of tile drainage -- which is similar to a weeping-tile system, on a large scale. Water is collected underground and sent to a central collection point where it can be reused in dry conditions.

Similar to surface drainage, tile-drainage projects that meet basic criteria and do not involve draining permanent or semi-permanent wetlands would be allowed through a simple registration process.

I have heard of some municipalities being concerned about tile-drainage projects having negative impacts due to incorrect installation, which is why the issue will be the focus of a government-stakeholder working group. This is another positive piece of news because tile drainage is a tool that should be accessible to all farmers.

The second plan announced by the province is the Surface Water Management Strategy that takes an all-encompassing view of water drainage across Manitoba. Instead of working with individual drainage issues, the strategy proposes to address entire watersheds and their interconnectivity.

If done correctly, the strategy's 50 proposed actions will drastically reduce the effects of flooding and drought.

The work being done in Manitoba, however, cannot stop at the borders. Our neighbours to the south and to the west are also home to the watersheds that eventually flow into this province, and now they must do their part to adopt similar measures. Manitoba can no longer be a recipient of unwanted water originating beyond its borders, and a multi-jurisdictional effort can recognize and solve this long-standing problem.

This is something we will continue to press for, but for now, I think producers in Manitoba should recognize drainage regulations will be simplified and a six-year strategy will be put in place to alleviate many of the drainage issues we experience.


Doug Chorney is president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, Manitoba's largest farm-policy organization. He farms grains, oilseeds and soybeans near East Selkirk.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 26, 2014 A15

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