Municipalities in Manitoba now have a document they can use for guidance when integrating tile drainage into drainage bylaws.
This is a newly released tile drainage bylaw template, a project led by the Red River Basin Commission and various partners to help local governments better understand this subsurface drainage system used by more and more farmers and local government’s role in the overall approval process.
Tile drainage isn’t new but it’s new to some, and as polls of participants during a series of tile drainage webinars last year showed, there’s still much confusion, including how the municipality’s role differs from provincial responsibilities in the overall approval process.
This template is intended only to be a guideline and meant to help councils start discussions to create their own process and bylaws, said RRBC officials last week.
“The purpose of this is it’s a starting point. It’s to guide municipalities in the creation of their own bylaws regarding tile drainage,” said Alison Sass, RRBC’s North Basin project co-ordinator who went over the considerations the template flags for municipalities when tile applications are received.
This should also help demystify tile drainage and help local governments make good decisions possible for their municipality and the farmers who want to tile land, Sass said.
“It’s important for us to educate ourselves on what tile is, what the benefits are and what the impacts are,” she said.
“This is a starting point to create and engage discussion in your municipality, and provide a little bit of education as well.”
The webinar polls last year revealed only about 15 per cent of municipalities in Manitoba currently have any sort of policy to guide them in reviewing tile applications as they come forward.
But as Steve Strang, Manitoba director of the RRBC points out “just granting an approval or just saying ‘no’ doesn’t work.”
“Councils need to understand the request before them.”
The 17-page plain language template lays out a series of considerations, discussion points and examples of bylaw text.
It enables municipalities to think about matters ahead of time, such as where they want tile water discharged, the condition of soil and water at the location the project is proposed, and maximum drainage coefficients.
The template also defines the roles of the province regulating tile, and municipal roles, and includes references and links to technical expertise and information municipalities need, such as the soil survey reports.
Managed tile drainage
It’s making more sense for producers to install tile and improve land productivity, given the rising cost of land acquisitions.
But there’s a wide range of conditions and soils across the province, and poorly designed projects lead to costly mistakes — and potentially conflict — for all involved.
Cliff Greenfield, manager for the Pembina Valley Conservation District said the trouble starts when something happens that nobody anticipated ahead of time.
A more carefully considered design phase that this template can facilitate can help us get in front of this, Greenfield said.
“Hopefully this will help the RMs and producers and even installers kind of get ahead of the game and keep things organized and working properly, so we don’t have these problems after the fact,” he said.
- Read more: Getting the most from tile drainage
The Assiniboine River Basin Initiative (ARBI), six conservation districts plus the province of Manitoba and its Tile Drainage Interdepartmental Working Group were RRBC’s partners in developing the template.
This should help move us towards a more managed and co-ordinated approach to drainage overall, said Allan Preston, ARBI chair.
“Tile drainage is a component of ag drainage, and I think sometimes people fail to recognize that it needs to be viewed in that perspective,” he said. “And part of the problem we’ve faced with the overall drainage issue for a number of years is that a lot of drainage works are completed and installed without giving adequate thought to the downstream impact.
“I think this drainage template, if municipalities adopt it and utilize it, it will enable them to form more fair decisions with regards to projects in their municipality.”
Municipalities in the western half of Manitoba see fewer applications for tile relative to the eastern portion of the province. Tile is now installed on thousands of acres of agricultural land across the province, yet still represents a small portion overall of agro-Manitoba, meaning the potential for a lot more to come is out there.
The RM of Dufferin ratified 15 tile projects last year alone, and has another 20 in front of it for review at present, reeve of that RM George Gray told those attending the template launch in Winnipeg last week.
That’s an uptick they anticipated a long time ago, too, he said.
About a dozen years ago it was already evident to them that tile would take on a life of its own and their concern at that time was that if it was left unregulated, as it was at the time, they’d soon be “like the Wild West.”
“And I mean that truly because without regulations and people willing to work with them you have a lot of bad things happening,” Gray said.
The template that will now be available across the province has its origins in his RM’s own comprehensive made-in-Dufferin policy developed under the direction of former reeve Shawn McCutcheon.
Gray stressed that in no way whatsoever was Dufferin’s adoption of the policy intended to stop farmers from tiling their land.
“The policy was never designed to restrict the concept of tile drainage, but to encourage people to understand it and use it for the benefit of agriculture,” Gray said.
“Never be afraid of it,” he told the Winnipeg gathering last week.
“Just make sure you use rules and regulations to your benefit, and to your farmers, and you’ll get along fine.”