A $750,000 fund will help Manitoba conservation districts work with farmers towards better water quality
A new $750,000 fund for Manitoba’s conservation districts to spend helping farmers improve water quality is welcomed, but it’s a drop in the bucket when it comes to saving Lake Winnipeg, farmers and conservation district leaders say.
“I’d say this program is better than nothing, but barely,” Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) president Doug Chorney said in an interview July 31. “If you really want to do things on the landscape and affect things like water quality it’s going to take more effort than this.”
The federal-provincial Growing Assurance — Ecological Goods and Services program announced last week is designed to help finance implementation of beneficial management practices on Manitoba farmers. Projects include water retention structures, wetland restoration, wetland construction, riparian enhancement, improvements to natural areas, grassed waterways, perennial cover for sensitive lands and shelterbelts.
One reservoir recently built near Elm Creek to store run-off from a half section of farmland, which is then used to irrigate surrounding land, cost $40,000. On that basis, the announced fund would fund 19 projects.
The Manitoba government cut $600,000 in funding for Manitoba Conservation districts in its budget this spring, said Murray Seymour, chair of the Manitoba Conservation Districts Association. The new program will help offset the shortfall, he said.
“Had those cuts not been made, this program would’ve really boosted what we can do on the landscape.”
Although Growing Forward 2 is a five-year program, future funding for Growing Assurance is unclear. Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn said it depends on how successful the scheme is in this fiscal year.
“I guess the pot is never big enough,” he said when asked if the program is underfunded.
The new program was welcomed by Selena Randall, research development co-ordinator for the Watershed Systems Research Program at the University of Manitoba. The Watershed Systems Research Program was established by the Manitoba government to develop new farm production systems that reduce the negative impacts on surface water.
“Through our research over the next four years we will identify how best to use such practices in Manitoba and demonstrate them to farmers and advisers,” Randall wrote in an email.
Les McEwan, chair of Tobacco Creek Model Watershed, also welcomed the program.
“In recent years there has been a definite shortage of funds to pay for actual structural changes in the area of watershed management and hopefully this can help alleviate part of the construction funding shortfall,” he wrote in an email. “That being said, we also need to maintain research and evaluation funding to ensure that funds being expended by the individual conservation districts are being done in the most efficient manner possible and will give Manitobans the results they expect.”
Kostyshyn, a former vice-chair and chair of the Manitoba Conservation Districts Association, said channelling funds through conservation districts (C.D.s) makes sense because they are made up of people living in the areas where the projects will take place.
“At the end of the day we feel this is the perfect recipe to move forward and be very proactive,” he said.
“C.D.s are in about 90 per cent of agro-Manitoba,” he said. “We’re pretty well the only ones that deliver that type of grassroots programming for the farmers out there on water issues. I think it’s a good fit for us delivering.”
The program will be overseen by a steering committee made up of representatives from Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI) and Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship.
Farmers can get more information about the Growing Assurance program from the following addresses on MAFRI’s website: