The impact farming has on water quality and ways to mitigate it will continue to be studied in Manitoba thanks to $1.8 million in new funding under the federal government’s Watershed Evaluation of Beneficial Management Practices (WEBs) project.
“The WEBs program is really about efficiency,” Les McEwan, president of the Deerwood Soil and Water Management Association said in an interview April 1.
“There are millions and millions of dollars spent across the country implementing BMPs (best management practices) and what this enables us to do is see what the impact of those expenditures are having from both a financial point of view, from an environmental point of view and ultimately what impact those BMPs are going to have on local water quality.”
The WEBs project began in 2004 with research in seven watersheds across Canada, including the South Tobacco Creek, whose headwaters begin west of here in the Pembina Escarpment.
Two more watersheds have been added to the project.
Five BMPs were evaluated in the South Tobacco Creek watershed during the first phase of WEBs:
A comparison of zero-and conventional-tillage land management (reducing soil erosion, which may carry some nutrients downstream);
Controlling water run-off from a livestock wintering location to improve water quality;
Converting cropland to forages for cattle providing wildlife habitat and reducing greenhouse gas emissions;
Enhancing riparian areas along waterways to improve water quality and fish habitat;
Using small dams to reduce overall farm nutrient levels downstream and helping to control downstream flooding;
In WEBs II these BMPs will continue to be evaluated and winter bale grazing will be added to the study.
“Some farmers are questioning whether there’s any difference having a cow out in the field (in the winter) opposed to a farmer spreading manure out there manually,” McEwan said.
The South Tobacco Creek watershed is well suited for the study because so much research has already been done through the Deerwood association, McEwan said. Researchers have base data that can be compared against the impact of a BMP, he said.
“The work done here at the South Tobacco Creek watershed is well known,” local MP Candace Hoeppner said in a news release announcing the funding last month. “Scientists, farmers, and the local watershed conservation group continue to work together to provide information to farmers about how they can improve their productivity in this unique landscape.”
Dale Steppler, one of the local farmers closely involved in the WEBs project, has said in past interviews he’s convinced farmers are not damaging the environment as much as some people assume. One of the benefits of the WEBs program is that the good effects of agriculture on the landscape can be quantified as well as the negative ones.
More than 70 other federal, provincial, academic and nongovernmental organizations are also partners in the WEBs project, which will run until 2013.
The other WEBs projects are at the following locations:
Salmon River, near Kamloops, B.C., Lower Little Bow River, near Lethbridge, Alta., Pipestone Creek, near Moosomin, Sask., South Nation, near Ottawa, Ont. , Bras d’Henri and Fourchette, near Quebec City, Que., Black Brook, near Grand Falls, N.B., Thomas Brook, near Kentville, N.S. and Souris River, near Souris, P.E.I. [email protected]
“Therearemillions andmillionsofdollars spentacrossthecountry implementingBMPs andwhatthisenables ustodoisseewhat theimpactofthose expendituresarehaving frombothafinancial pointofview,froman environmentalpoint ofviewandultimately whatimpactthose BMPsaregoingtohave onlocalwaterquality.”
– Les McEwan