New efforts won’t preserve wetlands


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Manitoba Sustainable Development is currently seeking public input on proposed regulations that will impact wetland habitats across Manitoba. While the department claims the new Water Rights Regulation will increase wetland protection, the proposed amendments are more likely to accelerate wetland destruction.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/01/2019 (1602 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba Sustainable Development is currently seeking public input on proposed regulations that will impact wetland habitats across Manitoba. While the department claims the new Water Rights Regulation will increase wetland protection, the proposed amendments are more likely to accelerate wetland destruction.

Wetlands play a vital role in protecting water quality, filtering algae-causing nutrients out of runoff before it reaches our beloved lakes, including Lake Winnipeg. Manitobans are all too familiar with our great lake’s water woes, and increasingly recognize the water-quality benefits that wetlands provide.

But wetlands also do more: mitigating flood peaks by holding back water, enabling groundwater recharge and aquifer replenishment, providing water during periods of drought, storing carbon and supporting healthy wildlife populations.

Steve Lambert / The Canadian Press Files Efforts to amend the Water Rights Regulation seem more focused on reducing red tape than preserving Manitoba’s wetlands, according to the Lake Winnipeg Foundation.

Despite providing us with these myriad benefits, Manitoba’s wetlands remain at risk. More than 70 per cent of our wetland habitats have been drained, damaged or destroyed as a result of agricultural and urban development. With each acre lost, Manitobans lose critical ecological goods and services that contribute to quality of life and economic stability throughout the province.

Over the past two years, the provincial government has made clear that it understands the value of wetlands and their benefits. With support from agricultural, municipal and environmental sectors, the Made-in-Manitoba Climate and Green Plan, released in October 2017, made a commitment to enhanced protection for seasonal, semi-permanent and permanent wetlands (class 3, 4 and 5 wetlands, respectively).

In line with this commitment, the Sustainable Watersheds Act was passed in June 2018. This act enshrined in legislation the guiding principle of no net loss of wetland benefits, requiring ­compensation to restore all wetland benefits lost through drainage activities.

Amendments to the Water Rights Regulation have been long anticipated by stakeholder groups as an important step in modernizing drainage management and wetland protection across Manitoba.

According to the consultation documents released by Manitoba Sustainable Development, the goal of the regulatory update is twofold: to reduce red tape and protect wetlands, guided by the overarching principle of no net loss of wetland benefits.

While a case could be made for red-tape reduction, the proposed amendments will not succeed in achieving either enhanced protection or no net loss of wetlands.

Surprisingly, the amendments actually roll back existing wetland protections laid out in a 2009 ministerial policy directive, which prohibits the department from issuing licences for the drainage of class 4 and 5 wetlands, larger habitats that hold more water and support diverse plant and animal populations.

In contrast, the proposed regulation would allow licences to be made available to drain class 3, 4 and 5 wetlands. This is in stark contradiction to the Climate and Green Plan’s commitment to enhance protection for class 4 and 5 wetlands, and to extend new protections to class 3 wetlands.

The proposed regulation lays out a series of compensation mechanisms that must be followed when class 3, 4 or 5 wetlands are drained in an effort to achieve no net loss of wetland benefits. Very few of the compensation options presented can be reasonably expected to replace the benefits lost by draining natural wetland habitats. One even goes so far as to allow a drainage proponent to “compensate” for draining a wetland simply by signing a conservation agreement not to drain another.

The suggestion that this results in no net loss is nonsensical. A conservation agreement on paper does not compensate for the real loss of water filtration, flood mitigation, carbon storage and wildlife habitat once provided by a drained wetland.

In an effort to fulfil the government’s commitment to red-tape reduction, the proposed regulations introduce a new streamlined drainage registration process. Registerable projects, purported to be “low-impact,” would no longer require a drainage licence. Yet the registration process requires drainage proponents themselves to classify the wetlands they intend to drain, to determine if a project may be registered ($100 fee) or if it must be licensed ($500 fee plus associated compensation costs of $6,000 per acre).

In the absence of a pre-established classification of the wetland in question, which Manitoba Sustainable Development has yet to produce, this registration process results in conflict of interest for drainage proponents, lack of clarity for provincial regulators and ongoing erosion of wetland benefits for all Manitobans.

Disappointingly, the proposed Water Rights Regulation appears to prioritize red-tape reduction over wetland protection, representing a step backwards for Manitoba. While regulatory efficiency may be a laudable goal, it cannot undermine regulatory efficacy.

Manitoba Sustainable Development is entrusted with the responsibility to protect the quality of the environment for all Manitobans. As the provincial regulator of drainage projects, the department must oversee a licensing and approval process that effectively protects our provincial water resources by maintaining all wetland benefits.

Manitobans now have the opportunity to speak up for wetland protection. Public input on the proposed Water Rights Regulation is being accepted until Saturday. Concerned citizens can email their comments to or contact their MLA, asking for sensible drainage regulation that is compliant with no-net-loss legislation, that will result in more protected wetlands across the province rather than fewer and that will safeguard our water now and for future generations.

Alexis Kanu is the executive director of the Lake Winnipeg Foundation.

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