Water management strategy unveiled

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Conservation is at the forefront of a new provincial strategy to guarantee the water needed to sustain population and industrial growth continues to flow amid the threats of climate change.

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Conservation is at the forefront of a new provincial strategy to guarantee the water needed to sustain population and industrial growth continues to flow amid the threats of climate change.

“Every drop counts,” Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said as she released her government’s new water management strategy Tuesday at FortWhyte Alive, a nature conservation centre in southwest Winnipeg.

“Today, our collective water needs are changing. Our growing communities, vibrant agriculture sector and expanding industries all depend on continued access to water. At the same time, climate change and extreme weather, such as floods and droughts, have a significant impact on our water availability and our water security.”

Premier Heather Stefanson, government officials and stakeholders were at FortWhyte Alive to unveil the province's new water management strategy. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

The strategy offers a high-level analysis of current and future demands on water resources and infrastructure, and sets out 11 priority areas and 47 strategic objectives for government.

The strategy was developed over the past two years, based on public consultation and engagement with at least 35 stakeholders.

It is the first “whole-of-government” water management strategy in nearly 20 years, the province said.

“Water, like climate change, touches all areas of our government and society,” Environment Minister Jeff Wharton said. “We know from our experiences with water management, including the 2021 drought and the widespread flooding in the past year, that we need a whole-of-government approach to water management.”

The strategy will provide the framework as the province develops a water action plan set for release in the spring of 2023. Further engagement with the public will take place this winter.

According to officials, the plan will determine the short-term projects or programs needed for government to implement the strategy. It will be updated regularly to reflect completed initiatives and next steps.

The province is focused on 11 priority areas, including conservation and efficient water use; biodiversity and aquatic ecosystem health; climate resilience; water infrastructure; meeting current and future demand; quality and quantity of groundwater; surface water quality; and Indigenous inclusion in water management.

The strategy identifies water scarcity in parts of southern Manitoba as an area of concern, requiring a concerted effort to avoid a shortage.

The province’s population is estimated to grow by about 360,000 people by the early 2040s, while water-intensive activities, including agriculture, will also increase.

“Although Manitoba as a whole has an abundance of high-quality surface water and groundwater supplies, several water sources in southern Manitoba are fully or near fully allocated,” the strategy states.

“In these regions of water scarcity, the potential for economic development and community growth have become limited, particularly in the potato irrigation and agricultural processing sectors, which are major contributors to Manitoba’s economy.”

Best practices in water conservation and efficiency, including a new pricing structure, updating leak detection and repair, rainwater capture programs, and the reuse and recycling of non-potable water, will be considered in the development of the action plan.

The province is faced with numerous and pressing water infrastructure challenges, the strategy states. Building new, and upgrading existing, supply infrastructure is required for reliable treatment and delivery of drinking water for communities and industry across Manitoba, according to the document.

Climate change and extreme weather have an impact on water availability and water security, says Premier Heather Stefanson. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Keystone Agricultural Producers general manager Brenna Mahoney said the lobby association has long supported a comprehensive, provincial water management strategy. KAP will be involved in the development of the action plan this winter, she said.

“We believe that the province has developed a water management strategy that is relevant, forward-thinking and addresses the majority of needs in agriculture.”

Ducks Unlimited Canada applauded the province’s commitment to update its water management strategy.

“Water is vital to all Manitobans — urban and rural,” said Mark Francis, Ducks Unlimited Canada provincial operations manager for Manitoba.

“As a stakeholder with significant expertise and experience, DUC is ready to collaborate on this critically important initiative.”

When asked if she would support increasing water-use fees, should the forthcoming action plan determine it necessary to meet the strategic goals, the premier declined to offer an answer.

“I’m not going to predict what may happen in the future,” Stefanson said. “We will wait to see what transpires and what is required when it comes to the action plan.”

— with files from Carol Sanders

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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Updated on Tuesday, November 8, 2022 6:49 PM CST: Updates with full writethru, quotes, extra info

Updated on Tuesday, November 8, 2022 8:11 PM CST: Adds photos

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