The Manitoba government’s new drainage regulations, which came into effect Oct. 2 are a “big disappointment,” says Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) vice-president Mitch Janssens.
“We were trying to convince them to dangle the carrot to create more beneficial wetlands, but also allow producers to improve their land. That’s not what we got. That’s where the big disappointment is. We viewed this as an opportunity to change our regulations to better benefit both sides of the spectrum. Realistically these regulations are very similar to the old ones.”
Why it matters: As long as there have been farmers drainage has been important and contentious. Crops need water to grow, but too much can drown them, as well as prevent or delay seeding and harvest. Drainage can affect wildlife habitat, aquifer recharge and have downstream effects on land and water quality.
KAP does see some positives though, especially the streamlined approval process for proposed farmland drainage projects.
Now farmers wanting to do minor drainage projects can register online and get an answer from the government within 14 days, Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires said in an interview Oct. 4.
“I inherited a backlog of hundreds of applications for drainage projects on farmland,” Squires said.
Some of them were as simple as swapping out an old culvert for a new one of the same size, she said.
“An application from 2013 still hadn’t been processed,” she said. “We were seeing applications for tile drainage that were just sitting in a queue and not being actioned in a quick, responsive way because of the way the system was set up before. And we knew that was unacceptable.”
But given the Water Rights Act’s ‘no net loss of wetland benefit’ policy, KAP was expecting the new regulations would be more flexible allowing farmers to drain larger wetlands classified as Class 4 and 5, if they replaced them with three times as many acres of new wetland, or to consolidate wetlands.
According to Janssens that would result in healthier wetlands, while improving farmland, making farmers more efficient and profitable.
“We were hoping to see an incentive program,” Janssens said. “If we created a bigger, healthier more permanent wetland then we could exchange that for cleaning up other areas of the farm where it was unfeasible to go back and forth with large equipment. You start losing a lot of time and a lot of money going in circles. If you can consolidate it (wetlands) to one area of the field you can create something more beneficial. That was the end game goal in our minds.”
Managing water is important to landowners and all Manitobans, Squires said.
“We consulted very broadly and found that many Manitobans agree that Class 4 and 5 wetlands (see sidebar) provide huge ecological benefits to the province,” she said. “We know these wetlands are the kidneys of our watersheds and are essential to cleaning up Lake Winnipeg and other waterways so we do need to protect Class 4s and 5s as much as possible. That is something our government has always been clear on.”
While KAP isn’t sure how it will proceed, it’s not giving up on pushing for future changes, Janssens said.
“The act isn’t the problem, the regulations are,” he said.
“The bright side to that is the regulations I think could probably be changed.”
Meanwhile, Janssens expects lots of farmers to contest the classification of their wetlands, which he said could’ve been avoided with greater flexibility around projects involving Class 4 and 5 wetlands.
“Producers can’t do anything with them,” he said. “That’s a frustration. You feel like you’re losing control of your own land when you’re dictated to.
“I guess the next step for us is to ask the provincial government how it is going to keep things economically sustainable,” Janssens said. “When you handcuff them (farmers)… water management is a huge problem right now. What are you going to do for the producers who aren’t allowed to better manage their land but are also suffering the economic losses associated with poor water management?”
The government’s new GROW (Growing Outcomes in Our Watersheds) program will provide some support.
“This is going to be a huge benefit for landowners and farmers in the Province of Manitoba,” Squires said.
GROW, which is a made-in-Manitoba ALUS (Alternate Land Use Services), program will have $100 million of funding, Squires said.
Premier Brian Pallister will announce the details in a few weeks, she said.
Wetland classes defined
(See class the full definitions here on the Manitoba government website)
Class 1: Ephemeral
Length of Water Retention: one week or less.
Type of Vegetation: Low prairie species such as Kentucky bluegrass, goldenrod, forbes.
Class 2: Temporary
Length of Water Retention: One week to one month.
Type of Vegetation: Wetland species such as fine-stemmed grasses, sedges and forbs.
Class 3: Seasonal
Length of Water Retention: One month to three months, often dry by mid-June but may hold water for the entire year.
Type of Vegetation: Shallow marsh vegetation such as emergent wetland grasses, sedges and rushes.
Class 4: Semi-permanent
Length of Water Retention: More than three months, hold some water year round under wetter conditions but go dry in below-average years.
Type of Vegetation: Marsh vegetation and submerged aquatic vegetation such as cattails, bulrushes and pond weeds in the central area of the wetland.
Class 5: Permanent
Length of Water Retention: Year round in average years with permanent open water in the central areas, but may go dry in years with well-below-average moisture conditions.
Type of Vegetation: Central area is open water free of vegetation surrounded by a zone of submerged aquatic vegetation such as cattails, bulrushes and pond weeds.
The size of the wetland is determined by the extent of wetland vegetation and the edge of the natural prairie. The size of a wetland is not determined by the extent of water which can vary from year to year.
Sustainable Development staff can help determine the class and size of a wetland. Email [email protected] for assistance.
Source: Manitoba Sustainable Development