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Good water management, like good fences, makes good neighbours

ARBI was formed in 2014 to bring diverse stakeholders together for better watershed management planning across the Assiniboine Basin

Water is a critical resource, yet all too often viewed as a nuisance or an impediment to production — and a problem to pass off to the neighbours.

“There can be lots of fights about water,” said Ag Days speaker Allan Preston, chair of the Assiniboine River Basin Initiative (ARBI) who began his Jan. 17 presentation ‘Across the Fencelines’ talk using the famous Mark Twain quote ‘whisky is for drinking, water is for fighting over.’

Preston presides over an organization comprised of multiple stakeholder groups that agreed a few years back it was better to find mutually agreed ways to manage water instead of fight over it.

ARBI formed in 2014 bringing multiple groups from across the Qu’Appelle, Souris and Assiniboine sub-basins to the table to seek an integrated watershed approach to critical issues facing a region covering some 162,000 sq. km and home to 1.5 million people.

Last year ARBI released a framework document laying out key issues and challenges of stakeholder groups, and the approaches and new risk management tools they’re developing.

One projects ARBI is supporting is the soon-to-be-released Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association Aquanty HydroGeoSpheric model, a new computer program which will model various flood and drought scenarios and help landscape managers to plan accordingly.

Those drought scenarios need our attention — and planning too, Preston said at Ag Days.

“I think we’ve been so focussed on floods in the last number of years we’ve forgotten that climate cycles do indeed go back and forth and drought events are something that will come back to haunt us,” he said.

Canadian research scientists have ascertained that during pre-settlement periods in Western Canada drought cycles lasted at least as long as quarter century, he said. That’s far longer than the Dirty Thirties of the last century.

“We barely survived as a society a seven or eight year drought cycle in the 1930s,” he said. “Are we at all prepared to manage a 25 year drought?”

Preston’s talk was included in a session that also included presenters on the ‘why tos and how tos’ of tile drainage, and on agricultural best management practices for water management that can benefit for both the farm’s bottom line and the environment.

Read more from this January 16 Ag Days ‘Where the Water Flows’ session in an upcoming issue of the Manitoba Co-operator.

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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