A new approach to drainage regulation rolled out this month by Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency is being called a good first step, but rural leaders say they’re anxious to hear more details.
Herb Cox, provincial official responsible for the WSA said September 1 new regulations are the first phase of an agricultural water management strategy that recognizes the benefits of drainage while mitigating its negative impacts.
It’s the first significant change to the province’s drainage laws in 35 years, with a phased-in approach planned to bring the entire province into compliance in a decade.
The approach aims for more carefully planned drainage and appropriate steps to reduce its impacts, Cox said in a news release.
“These new regulations are part of the development of a risk-based agricultural water management strategy that will improve the overall pro-cess, including applications and investigating complaints, and will help prevent future issues,” he said.
“We recognize drainage is an important water management tool for producers and these new regulations will help us streamline the approval pro-cess to help producers become compliant while mitigating damage downstream.”
Key changes include assessing the impact on flooding, water quality and habitat loss when approving drainage projects, and ensuring those impacts are addressed, while simplifying and streamlining the approval process.
The new regulations mean all drainage activity, including pre-1981 works, will be required to obtain an approval or be closed.
Written landowner agreements will serve as adequate land control downstream of works for many drainage projects, a significant change from the current approach that now requires applicants to obtain an easement over potentially impacted lands.
Lower- and moderate-risk works will be subject to “simple and minimal design and operation conditions” while higher-risk jobs will need more effort and may be denied, according to the WSA website.
Responses to complaints will focus on regulatory compliance rather than technical investigation, and the use of “qualified persons,” or persons the province will train and certify, will be required in the design of higher-risk projects.
Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) president Ray Orb welcomed the announcement, but the association still doesn’t know when it all takes effect.
“We’re pleased that the province is taking this first step,” said Ray Orb. “We see changes in the regulations as good but at the same time we’re waiting for the second phase when the province will elaborate on the process it’s going to follow.”
SARM is interested in hearing what sort of enforcement and deterrents the province plans to use to curb illegal drainage, he said. Drainage is a major issue facing rural Saskatchewan and SARM’s 296 member municipalities want stiffer penalties and more enforcement to curb activities that cause damages. “We’re saying this impacts a lot of people,” he said. “Maybe they should be looking at $50,000 and $60,000 fines so there’d be more of a deterrent.”
The WSA’s website says Saskatchewan is moving towards stronger and “gradual expansion” in enforcement, with the use of fines and orders to occur over a number of years.
A series of pilot projects based in the Souris Basin near Stoughton and the Assiniboine Basin near Canora are also part of the provincial strategy, with local producers, watershed authorities and representatives in those areas now committed to working with the WSA to help bring existing drainage projects in those areas into compliance.
Wanda McFadyen, project manager with the recently formed Assiniboine River Basin Initiative (ARBI) said their organization is pleased to see Saskatchewan moving ahead on its drainage regulation.
“We’re also pleased to see the pilot projects that they’re rolling out,” she said. “Both fall within the boundaries of the Assiniboine River Basin.
“It’s a positive step forward.”