A story about a western Manitoba farmer fined $474 for a ditch that was two inches too deep led KAP delegates into a discussion about drainage at a general council meeting here July 22.
Their conclusion: drainage rules need to be enforced equitably across the province.
“We have trees, cattails, willows, plugged culverts, ditches that rise and water is not allowed to flow,” said Bill Campbell, a District 1 Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) representative who farms near Minto. “Any time you bring it to (the local municipal) council they won’t even touch it. They won’t even look at it because of what licensing is required.”
Drainage concerns rank high after spring rains prevented or delayed seeding and damaged or destroyed crops, hay and pastures.
Last fall, Campbell said a friend was ordered by an official with the Water Stewardship department to refill a ditch or face a possible $10,000 fine or 90 days in jail.
He did, but was told late in the fall to add two more inches of soil. Frozen ground prevented that, Campbell said. The work didn’t get done this spring either because it was too wet. Just recently Campbell’s friend was handed a ticket for $474.
Contrast that against all the drainage that goes on in the Red River Valley.
KAP president Ian Wishart said two inches should be within the margin of error and predicted if the farmer went to court the judge would likely drop the fine.
But Wishart added while 60 per cent of the calls he gets from farmers on drainage are about doing more of it, the rest are from farmers complaining about the extra water they get because of increased drainage.
KAP has also been urging the provincial government to enforce drainage regulations through arbitration and appeals rather than the courts, but so far the government has refused, Wishart said. That could change if the government starts losing cases, he added.
Part of the problem, according to Weldon Newton, a District 9 representative who farms near Neepawa, are one or two overzealous Water Stewardship officials working in western Manitoba.
Earlier in the meeting delegates passed a resolution asking KAP to lobby the federal and provincial governments to investigate the restricted drainage capacity of the La Salle and Morris rivers and consider building diversions to take excess water to the Red and Assiniboine rivers.
Wishart noted because of the dam at the Lake of the Prairies and Portage la Prairie diversion that channels excess water from the Assiniboine River into Lake Manitoba, the Assiniboine can be relatively low, while the nearby La Salle and Morris rivers are flooding.
Diverting water from those two rivers might not be cost effective, but there are other options such as building levies or delaying upstream water until downstream water gets away, he said.
Meanwhile, there were complaints about delays in getting drain maintenance applications approved by Water Stewardship officials. Chuck Fossay, a District 6 delegate who farms at Starbuck, said he applied in late March or early April and has not received approval yet. Farmers across the province are anxious to clear their drains after the crop is harvested, he said. [email protected]