Our hats off to Pembina Valley, Assiniboine Hills, and Turtle Mountain conservation districts, which have recently completed the Pembina River Integrated Watershed Management Plan.
Thirty years ago, it was considered a real accomplishment when a group of neighbouring municipalities joined together to form a conservation district. After all, they were committing to co-operate on some of the most contentious issues facing municipal leaders, drainage and water management.
Now, a growing number of those conservation districts are merging under the broader umbrella of an integrated water management plan. Manitoba has 10 of these integrated plans in place, and another 13 in the works.
Balancing the interests of so many jurisdictions and coming up with a joint vision is no small feat, as evidenced by the three years it took to complete the Pembina River process. Its 10-year plan incorporates the priorities of the local conservation districts and RMs, but also provincial and federal governments, private landowners and non-profit groups.
They’ve identified their major goals as improving public and private drinking water quality, reducing algal blooms on major lakes, preventing water erosion along watercourses, and ensuring responsible surface water management that considers aquatic ecosystems.
Finding common ground on water management issues has never been more necessary, but it has also never been more difficult.
That old adage “whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over,” comes to mind as we survey the scene right now in Manitoba.
The events of this past spring underscore the reality that “flood protection” would be more aptly described as “flood redirection.” We can’t help but note the irony of communities that were built on a flood plain being protected at the expense of residents in and around Lake Manitoba.
Or that while governments choke on the half a billion dollars spent fighting spring floods, much of the province is now choking on the dust of drought-like conditions.
The political expediency of building more ditches and deeper diversions is understandable, as is the need for farmers to get onto their land as early as possible in the spring. But we might someday regret our haste to turn freshwater into saltwater.
It seems logical that the most prudent flood mitigation strategy would be to reduce the volumes of water trying to use the system at the same time.
Accomplishing that however, will require co-operation inter-provincially as well as internationally, given the nature of the Assiniboine and Red River watersheds – a prospect that seems beyond our political capacity.
A new study released by the International Institute for Sustainable Development suggests Manitoba is not alone in its predicament.
“Almost 50 per cent of the Earth’s land surface lies within such transboundary watersheds, which provide over 60 per cent of global freshwater flow,” the report Ecosystem Approaches in Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) says.
“These watersheds also represent large tracts of land with high biodiversity and forest cover. It has been estimated, however, that a third of the world’s watersheds have lost more than 75 per cent of their original forest cover and that 17 river basins have lost more than 95 per cent (Revenga, et al. 1998).
“Competition with activities that lead to deforestation, mostly due to a need for increased food production, makes it imperative to sustainably manage such watersheds and the ecosystem services (ES) from them (including food and water).”
Researchers reviewed the management of seven major transboundary river basins, including the Red, Mekong, Okavango, Congo, Danube, Jordan, and La Plata rivers – representing North America, Asia-Pacific, Africa, Europe, West Asia, and Latin America regions of the world.
It found that while transnational water agreements exist, they deal with traditional resource issues such as water quantity, navigation and hydropower.
The role of these watersheds in providing environmental services, such as water quality, erosion control and flood water storage, remained under the control of local jurisdictions.
“In all cases a stronger focus on ecosystem services would produce new benefit opportunities, such as biodiversity benefits and increased resilience to extreme climate events such as floods and droughts, which would complement more traditional benefits such as hydropower and navigation,” the report concludes.
“In the case of the Red River Basin, there are significant opportunities for transboundary collaboration and international co-operation to address flooding and water quality as integrated issues,” said Hank Venema, director of IISD’s water innovation centre.
Integrated watershed management at the local and regional levels is clearly a step in the right direction. [email protected]