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Wetland restoration in Pembina Valley ‘a rarity,’ said CD officials

About 160 acres have been converted back to wetland after the landowners farming it saw more advantage using the acres to hold water than farming it at a loss

Brenda and Cliff Seward had known for a long while a certain piece of farmland wasn’t very productive — but they kept on cultivating it anyways.

This was about 40 acres, once slough, and drained more than 30 years ago, explains Brenda who farms southwest of Morden in the Kaleida area.

They got better crops off it years ago, but in the last while only two or three out of every 10 years were productive. It was too wet the rest of the time.

“It’s always been a marginal piece of land,” she said.

Ultimately, the couple decided the inputs trying to farm it were wasted and to convert it back to slough. They signed on to a project two years ago with the Pembina Valley Conservation District to have it restored to the wetland it once was.

“It was broken up years ago. It shouldn’t have been,” said Seward who is also a board member with the PVCD.

The land was first drained and cultivated about 30 years ago, around the time a road running through it was being built, she added.

2017 has been the first year the site has had water on it since completion of the wetland restoration, which was designed and executed by the PVCD.

“It’s amazing how quick the bulrushes have grown around the edges,” said Seward. It’s been a bit weedy but they’ll eventually seed it to slough grass and hay it.

“It won’t be long and the grass area will be filled in, hopefully.”

The parcel may not sound very large, but this project is significant in several ways, says PVCD manager Cliff Greenfield.

It adds to another adjacent parcel owned by Cliff’s brother that was previously put under wetland restoration after he also saw the land better off this way and was supported through incentives offered through Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation to have it converted. It was after seeing what was involved on this land that Cliff and Brenda decided to do the same.

The slough encompasses both parcels of land and together make about a quarter section, said Greenfield.

PVCD’s main objective in seeing this happen was to stem erosion they were seeing on land downslope from here. This agreement to now hold water will go a long way to achieving it, he said.

“The location of that restoration is above the Pembina River, and there’s a fair bit of drop down to the river, he said. “The way to treat that kind of erosion is through holding water back on the land. Those acres with maybe four or five feet of water put back on it has a pretty significant impact in terms of managing the run-off.”

“It’s signifcant enough in size and volume to definitely slow down that flood peak and reduce erosion downstream.”

What’s also significant is where this wetland restoration has taken place, he added.

“We do a fair number of water retention projects with farmers in areas who are OK with it, but typcally those would be ravines that would not have a lot of agricultural use anyway,” he said.

“This is a area where they were trying to cultivate the land and so that is significant. In the flatter Red River Valley it’s rare to find those locations where it’s maybe not suitable to cultivation and landowners would consider a conservation project like this,” Greenfield said.

He said there’s likely many parcels of land that could be considered for the same type of project.

“Nowadays tile drainage and even surface drainage can maximize productivity but there are areas where even with that technology it’s still not guaranteed a crop eight or nine or 10 years out of 10.

“It makes sense to put your effort into the good land, land you can make productive nine years out of 10 and do something different with the land you’re not so succesful with. It could be a conservation project like what we’re talking about or even into permanent cover that can handle more flooding than a cultivated crop.”

Seward said they feel they did the right thing, considering what they were losing trying to farm this piece of land and the positive impact this will have.

“Restoring these two Seward wetlands reduces erosion and flooding downstream,” said chairman for PVCD’s Lizard Lake subdistrict, Walter McTavish.

“This benefits everyone in the watershed, including the municipality, as downstream roads are less at risk from washing out.”

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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