Tim Berscheid is calling on the province to step in and put an end to water management practices that he says have flooded his ranch.
“The provincial government licenses, regulates, operates. I mean they can try and ditch it off to the municipality, but it’s their jurisdiction,” said Berscheid, who farms in the Rural Municipality of Kelsey, near The Pas.
Berscheid and his wife Michelle have been in the area for nearly four decades and their struggles with excess water have become more dire with each passing year, he said. Last fall, high water left his cattle stranded as he turned to crowdfunding for assistance.
“We sold some of them, but we’ve also used our expertise to scratch stuff together to make the feed supply last and did what cattle guys do — we made the best of a bad situation. But nobody warned us that this is what we could expect at the end of that struggle as a reward,” he said.
This spring his cattle are again stranded on a patchwork of hills and highlands as water moves in.
“It’s a little different this time of year because you have a little bit of grass, but that grass is quickly getting flooded and disappearing,” he said, adding he has asked Manitoba Agriculture for assistance. “But the only assistance I got from the Agriculture Department is it wants to change my contract so it can take my land away, that’s the assistance I got.”
When questioned, a spokesperson for the Manitoba government said that the terms of Berscheid’s lease “are being honoured” by the province, but also noted the department can provide ranchers a list of alternate lands where cattle can be relocated.
What Berscheid wants, however, is for the province to step in and regulate the use of the water control structures he believes are inundating his land. While pumps are running at full tilt pushing water in his direction, the rancher said pumps that could be moving water off his land are sitting idle and a crucial culvert remains blocked.
“They have operating rules that they are supposed to follow that they are breaching, they have equipment that they are choosing not to use, they are making choices,” Berscheid said.
Not so, according to the province, which points the finger back at local officials.
“Ongoing operations of the Main Pump Station and Victor Jory Pump Station in this area are guided through regular interaction with a pumping committee made up of representatives from the Pasquia Growers Association, the RM of Kelsey and government officials to protect agricultural lands in the area,” said a provincial spokesperson. “Extraordinarily wet conditions are prevalent throughout the Pasquia area. Pumping operations are being conducted to minimize the impacts of excess water.”
Berscheid acknowledges that it’s been an extremely wet spring, but said that doesn’t change the fact that water is being pumped onto his land.
“The area we are in has a plug in one end and pumps and a control structure in the other, which is up to the government to operate, the committee from the RM is just advisory,” he said. “We are kinda at the forefront… this water that they are sending this way has to be pumped twice, and they have allowed and turned a blind eye to complaints filed where culverts were collapsed or plugged that would allow a release of some of that water to go to other pumping stations and be pumped once, but they sit and do nothing about it.”
“They doubled the capacity of the Mile 14 pumphouse, they did a major upgrade on it and the reason for that upgrade was to be able to take water from Big Lake and pump it once, rather than pumping it twice, but they are choosing not to use that equipment for what it was designed for,” he said.
Illegal drainage, poor maintenance of culverts, failure to enforce existing regulations and self-interest among those charged with water management have all contributed to flooding, Berscheid said.
“It’s the cowboy way up here,” he added.
The Manitoba Co-operator reached out to RM of Kelsey reeve, Rod Berezowecki, but did not receive a response before press time.
Other community members who did not wish to comment on the record cited ongoing and past litigation and a lot of drainage in the region as contributing to the inability to resolve the issue.
For his part, Berscheid said he does feel like water is being used as a weapon against him and his family. In 2007 he was able to successfully lobby for the temporary shutdown of the pumps that flood his land, but as soon as the water stopped the death threats began.
“I don’t know if this is the new normal, or if it was designed to finish what was started last fall, like I said, it’s a weapon and I wish they would just inform people so they can make decisions, rather than wait till you got your cows out there and go, oh, yeah, by the way, we’re just going to let them flood ya,” he said, adding that if the rules established in 1997 for operating water control structures were abided by he wouldn’t be in the situation he is now.
“When everything is said and done, it’s provincial jurisdiction and it’s like they want to turn a blind eye,” he said.