It’s time Manitoba becomes a leader on the drainage issue

Flooding was a problem not only in Manitoba this past year, but it was also a major issue in Saskatchewan. Both provinces faced enormous costs associated with lost crops, washed-out roads and culverts, and in some cases, people lost their homes.

In fact, flooding in Manitoba will cost taxpayers $1 billion in damages and flood-fighting efforts.

This wasn’t the first year Manitoba was forced to deal with water issues. We’ve been plagued by a number of consecutive wet years in areas throughout the province, affecting people’s livelihoods and causing tremendous emotional stress and hardship for hardworking Manitobans — those that are enduring the real costs of the flood. Yet, as a province, we haven’t done nearly enough in terms of implementing real solutions to this recurring issue.

The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM), who witnessed the devastation flooding brought to their province and taxpayers, realized the ramifications of flooding on the land; more specifically in terms of drainage and how that affects people and property downstream.

As public demand for accountability in the drainage decision-making process continues to grow, SARM recently approved a resolution regarding “non-permitted drainage” at their mid-term convention this fall.

“Enforcement of Drainage Legislation: Whereas municipalities and landowners are experiencing danger to infrastructure and property from non-permitted drainage activities, which creates financial hardship for both municipalities and landowners; Be it resolved that SARM lobby the provincial government to enforce provincial land drainage legislation.” (SARM resolution POP4-11M)

Saskatchewan leaders have taken up the cause of encouraging the enforcement of existing drainage legislation in order to reduce the financial and physical impacts of having more water than they can handle.

Manitoba and Saskatchewan both faced unprecedented levels of flooding in 2011, and in both provinces, wetlands continue to be lost at alarming rates.

The science is clear: wetland drainage makes flooding worse. Enforcing drainage regulations will not be easy or, in some cases popular, but it is essential if we are to better manage our surface water resources in the face of increasingly variable climate extremes.

These Saskatchewan municipal leaders get it. They realize that what they are doing to the land not only affects their own province, but also their neighbours to the east — us. They realize what they are sending downstream, not just water, but also sediment and nutrients, is causing water quality problems in many of our rivers and lakes. But most importantly, they are doing something about it.

In the past, similar resolutions were put forward by Manitoba municipalities that resulted in increased awareness of the impact of unrestricted drainage to the government, but it’s time this issue gets back on the provincial agenda. We need to move forward in a more proactive way to raise the awareness of wetland loss, and how this loss adds to our flooding woes, and put a stop to it once and for all.

An independent flood review is currently being debated in political circles and the media. If this review does happen, it absolutely must include an evaluation of the effects of wetland drainage and degradation, and provide recommendations to protect and restore their flood-fighting capabilities.

Politics aside, whether we do a review or not, we need to stop draining wetlands or our next flood will be worse.

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