Big changes are ahead in 2019 for Manitoba’s conservation districts.
The current 18 existing entities are merging into 14, afterward to be called watershed districts, and given expanded mandates for water management.
New boundaries and name changes will be just part of a broad array of changes made to the program, as the provincial government modernizes the conservation district program as part of implementing its Sustainable Watersheds Act (Bill 7).
Little Saskatchewan CD, for example, will pair with Upper Assiniboine and take in most of Lake of the Prairies.
“Ours will be probably the biggest watershed district in Manitoba after it’s all over,” said Ray Frey, who is also the chairman of the MCDA.
“It’s going to be a tremendously challenging and busy year ahead.”
The changes will usher in expanded responsibilities, as well as potential new revenue streams for programming. That includes through the newly launched Conservation Trust, administering the Growing Outcomes in Watersheds (GROW) program, and Ag Action Manitoba.
But CDs remain worried about how they’re going to stretch fixed operating budgets and existing staff over the much larger geographic areas, and being told at their recent annual meeting the province’s fiscal woes won’t allow for increases didn’t allay those concerns.
That led other delegates to float the idea of new and innovative ways to stabilize core funding for CDs, such as Assiniboine Hills delegate Ted Snure’s suggestion that CDs set up trust funds of their own.
A managed fund of their own could help to maintain operational costs and it’s badly needed, said Snure.
“Through this whole process of talking about regulation change and boundary change, there really hasn’t been enough significant discussion about the impact on budgets for the CDs,” he said.
“And they don’t talk about the fact that they have cut funding to the conservation districts over the years.”
The province released a discussion paper in 2017 on modernizing the CD program listing five priority areas, including aligning districts to watershed boundaries, refreshing the program’s entire mandate, amending legislation, modernizing funding models and enhancing the implementation of integrated watershed management plans (IWMPs).
A new map now shows the boundaries around the proposed new ‘watershed districts’ as CDs will hereafter be called.
Proposals outlining these and other changes for each of the 14 future watershed districts are now being drafted and there will be meetings through to mid-January to finalize details with the goal of getting municipalities to sign off on the proposals by the end of March.
Jan. 1, 2020, is the target date set for proclaiming the Sustainable Watersheds Act.