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Reeve slams province for not taking flood threat seriously

Sifton Reeve Rick Plaisier wants the premier to light a fire under his officials and 
deal with the threat posed by increased drainage in Saskatchewan

Fearing a repeat of 2011’s unprecedented flooding in the not-too-distant future, reeves representing southwestern Manitoba municipalities are demanding a meeting with Premier Greg Selinger to find out what is being done to prevent it.

“What are they doing about water coming in from Saskatchewan?” asked Rick Plaisier, reeve of the RM of Sifton. “Are they meeting with them or not? And if they are, why aren’t they sharing that information?”

Plaisier made the comments after releasing a draft version of the West Souris River Integrated Watershed Management Plan at a community meeting.

The 61,000-square-kilometre watershed takes in the southwest corner of the province, the southeastern corner of Saskatchewan and a wide swath of northwestern North Dakota.

Plaisier has been sharply critical of drainage work being done on Saskatchewan farmland, saying he’s personally seen “huge drainage ditches 12 feet deep,” and says the province needs to be taking the lead to protect Manitoba landowners from future flooding.

Plaisier and RM of Morton Reeve Bob McCallum, co-chairs of the Southwest 2011 Flood Strategy Committee representing 13 rural municipalities, are also trying to pressure the provincial government to compensate landowners for holding back water to protect urban centres during that year’s epic flood.

The province’s attitude post-flood has been “condescending,” said Plaisier.

As well, he said only low-level bureaucrats have been sent to recent meetings of the Souris Basin International Commission and they “don’t say much” to their North Dakota and Saskatchewan counterparts.

“We’re at the bottom of the hill here,” said Plaisier. “Why aren’t our delegates speaking out?”

He and McCallum asked to meet with the premier after an unproductive meeting with Water Stewardship Minister Steve Ashton.

Plaisier was part of a team of 15 people — composed of municipal and provincial officials as well as concerned citizens — who created the West Souris River Integrated Watershed Management Plan. Mitigation projects for both storing and holding back water feature prominently in the draft document.

While it was being crafted, the watershed saw everything from drought in 2008 to the epic flood of 2011, noted Manson Moir, chairman of the project management team that created the plan.

“We pretty well covered the whole scope of conditions in this watershed over the four to five years we worked on it,” said Moir.

He said public input into the document is still welcome before it is submitted for provincial approval. (It can be found by going to ship and typing West Souris River Integrated Watershed Management Plan in the search box.)

Construction of small dams is a major focus of the “action” aspect of the draft document, as well as “water soft paths” – conservation methods for ensuring future clean water sources for municipal supplies, said Dean Brooker, manager of the West Souris River Conservation District.

Having a plan on paper will help secure funding, he said, noting his district’s annual budget of $326,000 doesn’t leave a lot of room for ambitious projects.

“It definitely helps out,” said Brooker.

Two or three sites capable of holding back roughly three acre-feet of flow have already been selected for construction next year at a cost of $12,000 each. The cost is split 80-20 between the district and the landowner, but organizations such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation also support this type of work, said Brooker.

Government also needs to do more by compensating landowners for allowing such structures to be built on their property, said Plaisier.

The 2008 provincial Water Protection Act called on conservation districts and municipalities to create watershed plans covering water supply, natural areas, water quality, and surface water management. So far, 23 plans covering 18 districts are underway, with 13 completed.

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