The Manitoba government is backpedalling on an apparent demand that farmers get provincial licences before conducting even small drainage projects on their land.
A letter this week from Manitoba Water Stewardship says there is no such policy and producers are free to carry out minor drainage work without permits, at least for now. (See Letters to the Editor, page 5.)
The letter signed by Deputy Minister Don Norquay says a previous department notice saying minor water control works were no longer exempt from licensing was incorrect.
That was only a draft policy for discussion and should not have gone out to producers, said Norquay.
“(A) workable minor works licensing process has not been finalized and as such Water Stewardship regrets and apologizes for any concern or confusion this miscommunication has created,” he wrote.
The issue created a flap within Keystone Agricultural Producers. Some farmers doing drainage maintenance on their fields this fall phoned KAP fearing they might be fined and their drains closed.
Department officials originally said minor water control works could go ahead and licences could be issued retroactively for up to six months.
Water Stewardship now says it still intends to develop a policy for licensing minor drainage projects. The department promises to work with KAP on such a policy. Until then, however, no licences are required.
“Nothing will be implemented until something can be worked out with KAP,” said a spokesperson for Water Stewardship Minister Christine Melnick.
The department has long exempted the construction and maintenance of minor water control works from licensing under The Water Rights Act. But an April 2008 report by the provincial ombudsman recommended changing that to help the province better enforce the licensing system.
The notice which went out in August, primarily to farmers in southwestern Manitoba, said all water control works, regardless of size, required licensing immediately. Failure to comply could result in fines and/or closure of works.
The department now says the notice jumped the gun. But the damage was done when some municipalities circulated it to landowners along with annual tax notices.