“We’re not here to shut operations down.”
– GEOFF REIMER, WATER RESOURCE
New provincial regulations requiring licences for on-farm drainage in Manitoba are necessary to stop the drainage abuse that occurred in the past, a producer meeting last week was told.
There was a time when producers would sometimes use an unwritten exemption to “get away with murder” in carrying out drainage projects on their land, said Geoff Reimer, a senior water resource officer with Manitoba Water Stewardship.
Now all drainage must be licensed by the province before it can go ahead, Reimer told some 50 local farmers gathered to hear information about Manitoba’s new water drainage rule.
The new rule isn’t entirely popular among farmers. Some see it as the heavy hand of government controlling what they do on their own land.
Reimer said producers at a previous meeting in Steinbach called the rule a government conspiracy against farmers already resentful over manure phosphorus regulations and a moratorium on hog barn construction in the region.
He repeatedly assured the March 19 meeting the province is not out to spy on farmers and catch them conducting illegal drainage projects.
“We’re not here to shut operations down,” Reimer insisted. “There’s no hidden agenda here.”
At the same time, he reminded producers the province has the legal authority to stop people who attempt to drain without a licence. That can include seizing equipment.
Manitoba farmers learned in 2008 they would need licences to drain water from their land as a result of changes to the provincial Water Rights Act.
Previously, the province had an unspoken rule that on-farm drains no more than a foot deep did not need approval. Major drainage projects still required licences.
But that left the system open to abuse. Reimer told of one producer who dug a four-foot-deep ditch and tried to justify it by saying it was a one-foot annual allowance spread out over four years.
Other producers would carry out major earth-moving projects under the guise of drainage.
The provincial ombudsman finally ruled in April 2008 the one-foot rule was contrary to the act and there were no legal grounds to exempt any water control works from a licence.
Around the same time, a report by the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board recommended licensing all water control works.
As a result, Manitoba Water Stewardship decided all works, including on-farm drains, would have to be licensed.
Reimer said the province tries to apply the rule with as little inconvenience to landowners as possible. Only one application is required for each section of land instead of each individual drain. The fee is $25. Once a project is approved, it is licensed in perpetuity unless it undergoes major alterations.
Under questioning, Reimer said if several different producers farm a section of land, each one must apply separately.
A renter can apply for a drainage licence, but the landowner must sign the application, he said.
The turnaround time to approve an application is two to three weeks. Water resource officers will visit the farm to inspect the proposed project. Often, the application can be approved at the kitchen table, said Reimer.
Water Stewardship currently has about 500 applications at various stages of approval. So far, not one has been rejected, although some have been sent back for reworking, he said.
But Reimer stressed approval is not automatic.
“People think that, but that’s not the case.”
Ray Franzmann, a farmer from Fannystelle, said most producers generally accept the new regulation, although it does require more paperwork.
But Chris Kletke of Brunkild said farmers are already in a tight financial squeeze and even a $25 fee is money lost from the bottom line. [email protected]