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Flood resilience increasing as jurisdictions co-operate: ARBI

By pulling the pieces of the puzzle together, a better and more co-ordinated approach is possible

Flooding remains a persistent threat, but some farmers and landowners living along the Assiniboine, Souris and Qu’Appelle rivers and their tributaries are now better prepared for the next occurrence.

Since 2011 five municipalities along with the City of Brandon, working in Manitoba’s Upper Assiniboine Conservation District, have funded and built several new small dams and other water retention projects along the Arrow-Oak river and within the Assiniboine-Birdtail watersheds. Those projects began after creating a watership management plan and priority setting that reflected common ground among local landowners and municipalities, said Ryan Canart, CD manager.

“We want to reduce the velocity of water and hopefully the impact of silt loading in to the river,” he said, adding that the common ground agreed on going forward was that everyone wants swimmable, drinkable, fishable water. “We all want those things,” he said.

Across the border in Saskatchewan, another half-dozen municipalities are also co-operating on water protection. Working under auspices of the Assiniboine Watershed Stewards Association, they came together to help fund nearly 40 miles of channel clearing along the Wallace Creek and its tributaries.

Meanwhile in North Dakota, local residents have recently located and cleaned out an outlet to Boundary Lake, whose location had mystified residents for years. Because nobody knew where it was, as a result had been unmaintained for over 50 years. That has now significantly lessened the risk of future flood damages by giving officials with the Bottineau County Water Resource Board a better idea of where people should and shouldn’t build around the lake. Meanwhile in Minot, multiple flood protection projects are also underway to lessen the risk of the kinds of flood that devastated that city in 2011.

Those were some of the accomplishments shared at the third annual Assiniboine River Basin Initiative (ARBI) conference held here last week.

ARBI formed three years ago with members from Saskatchewan, North Dakota and Manitoba to try to share ideas for water management and bring more cohesion to water planning to the region which encompasses approximately 162,000 sq. km and is home to 1.5 million people.

The theme for the 2016 conference was ‘fitting the pieces together,’ focusing on work by subgroups across the basin to do exactly that.

Jesse Nielsen, manager of the Assiniboine Watershed Stewards Association, told the conference their main accomplishment — for which they’ve recently received an award — proves co-operation and co-ordinated effort is the way to go.

“We’re so concerned with just taking care of ourselves and as long as I’m doing all right and I’ve got my head above water, so to speak, it’s sort of let the other guy worry about himself,” he said.

“When it comes to water management you just can’t take that kind of approach. What’s traditionally been done in our area… one RM worries about its water and upsizes its own culverts and does its own thing and once it’s out of its boundaries and off to the next RM that’s their problem. That just doesn’t work. Water doesn’t know any boundaries. There’s impacts regardless.”

Conference attendees also heard about ARBI’s efforts, including creation of a comprehensive document to lay out its vision and mission, and long-term goals and objectives to guide its future work.

ARBI’ own priorities now are to complete that document, begin a white paper on the state of the basin, and continue to support the Aquanty Project, said ARBI board chair Allan Preston.

Funding for ARBI comes from the province of Manitoba and the North Dakota State Water Commission, plus additional support from Minot and Ward County, various Manitoba municipalities, including the City of Brandon and watershed associations in Saskatchewan.

They operate a slim budget however, with less than half of the funds actually needed to operate.

“We’re probably about 40 per cent of the way toward the budget we need to work with going forward,” Preston said, adding the ongoing task is showing funders the progress being made to achieve their goals.

A major project being supported by ARBI, together with the Manitoba Forage and Grasslands Association, AAFC and Manitoba Agriculture, is the Aquanty Project, an ambitious $1.8-million undertaking to develop a hydrospheric model for the entire basin.

“From that we hope to generate significant interest in changing some of our land use practices specifically in the area of maintaining more grasslands and creating more perennial forages as a component of water management,” Preston said.

A recent development is the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan’s large funding announcement that will go towards supporting the largest water research program ever funded worldwide. Its advisers have approached ARBI to suggest research topics, said Preston who calls that new development a game changer for their organization and an affirmation of its work to date.

“To me that means we’ve been doing something right as an organization,” he said.

U.S. Consul General Chris Gunning, who’s based in Winnipeg, thinks so. In a brief address to the conference, he praised the organization’s trans-boundary approach between two countries, saying too often we ignore or forget what’s beyond the borders of our own maps. ARBI’s is a truly unique approach in all of North America, Gunning said.

“There is no other group like this,” he said.

ARBI now has a 51-member basin-wide board. Next year’s conference will be held in Regina.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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