Farmers want a commitment from the next provincial government to create a province-water strategy for long-term and broad-based management of the entire watershed – not short-term crisis intervention during floods.
Keystone Agricultural Producers rolled out the key issues farmers will be putting before candidates in this fall’s provincial elect ion dur ing their recent general council meeting.
They want a commitment to bring all parties involved in water-related issues to the table, and more co-operation including political partnerships among all the players for an “extensive water strategy involving all stakeholders,” a KAP document says.
MANAGING THE WATER CYCLE
The province’s problems, including Lake Winnipeg’s degradation, stem from being unable to properly manage and adapt the hydrologic cycle of the Red River Basin and Lake Winnipeg’s watershed, it also says.
The problem right now is we’re trying to address our water problems in piecemeal fashion, said KAP president Doug Chorney in an interview.
More focus is needed on the value of water storage, and for that to happen you need broad-based engagement of all stakeholders, he said.
And while a framework exists already for those discussions to start, they haven’t, he said. Conservation districts are a good model for this to begin, yet there are parts of Manitoba where no C.D. even exists.
“No one is looking at the province as a whole,” he said.
By contrast, to the south, the states of Minnesota and North Dakota have taken an approach that looks at the entire Red River Basin, undertaking projects such as working with landowners to alleviate flooding pressures on urban communities downstream by determining key locations to hold back water.
“They’ve done surveys of the entire basin to determine the best places to store water,” said Chorney. “It goes way beyond the conservation district model to the whole state. That’s something we’ve never done in Manitoba.”
The push for water strategy dovetails with its other key request: that the province pursue an ecological goods and services program and start helping to provide the incentives needed to retain wetlands and other natural landscapes.
Specific to the goals of a water strategy, wetlands provide managed retention and release of spring run-off into the larger watershed, reducing water flows during peak flooding season as well as holding nutrients back, the KAP issues document says.
Chorney said such an approach would be far more economical than forking out $500-million-plus to fix the damage from overland flooding such as we’ve seen this spring. It would also represent a real integration between farmers and the urban public working together to resolve flooding issues.
Otherwise, the market pressure will remain on farmers to produce from every acre they own – which means more wetland drainage with all the ongoing downstream consequences of nutrient buildup and excess water flow, Chorney said.
“The economic signals farmers are getting are to crop everything you can crop, seed every piece of ground you own, and to accomplish that farmers do what they have to do to get rid of water. If that economic signal was changed, where we told farmers we’re going to value the storage of water on your property and we’re going to pay you for it, farmers would probably co-operate.”
A local project in south-central Manitoba, undertaken by the RM of Dufferin, paying farmers $40 an acre to save wetlands on their property is an excellent example of the approach KAP is advocating.
“That’s exactly the kind of way we can help solve problems.”
KAP is also calling for a Conservation land tax rebate program. The idea behind that is to remove the tax burden farmers pay which right now acts as a disincentive to retain conservation land. It would be a “positive first step towards the development of a large ecological goods and services program” the KAP backgrounder says.
Other needs in Manitoba KAP will raise before candidates leading up to the Oct. 4 election, are need for complete removal of education tax from all properties including farm production buildings and all residences. KAP is asking the province to develop a five-year plan to shift to a more sustainable way of funding education without placing additional tax burdens on ratepayers.
The farm lobby group will also be looking for commitment from the next government to introduce legislation that would provide a stable funding system for general farm organizations in Manitoba. Current legislation provides for a voluntary checkoff system but it is not working as it should, the KAP document says.
Presently, government is not willing to act on its current legislated responsibility to enforce the checkoff system and the current system is also resulting in significant revenue volatility, it says.
– DOUG CHORNEY, KAP PRESIDENT