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Water Management Key Election Issue

When Manitoba was hit hard by flooding this year, it was a major wake-up call about the need to focus on properly managing our watershed systems.

Water quality and water management are complex issues, and what we need is an extensive water strategy involving all stakeholders that addresses the interconnected challenges we are facing. Heading into the Oct. 4 provincial election, Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) has been calling on candidates to commit to establishing a provincial water strategy as part of their campaigns. It is clear that it will take a tremendous amount of planning, research and commitment by government, industry and the general public to achieve the goal of developing and implementing a water strategy.

KAP wants to see a plan for the long term and broad-based management of the entire province, not just short-term crisis measures to handle flood water. This type of planning would bring benefits to farmers and the province as a whole. Conditions in 2011 serve as a good example of why long-term planning is needed. In the same year that we had extensive flooding in different regions and excessive precipitation early in the year, there was drought in the eastern part of the province that was one of the worst in history.

If a water storage system on the landscape was in place, we could have stored some of that water and farmers in that region would have had the ability to irrigate. This is the reason why it is time to shift how we think about water management so that we are planning ahead and not simply focused on trying to get rid of water as fast as possible.

In the spring, we know that runoff from the snow melt moves off the land too quickly. A system could be in place to slow the flow of water and store it in appropriate places so that nutrients are kept out of the larger watershed until vegetation can do its job to utilize them. Wetlands accomplish this.

KAP believes it is time for government to review the extensive amount of work that has gone on in Manitoba regarding wetlands and ecological goods and services. To move forward, we need to develop a comprehensive ecological goods and services program for Manitoba that government has put on the back burner for years.

Included in that program we must consider the opportunity for utilizing natural wetlands and strategic water retention areas while ensuring that landowners are compensated for water storage. Many ecological services can be provided in the watershed that would serve to protect our natural resources.

Without a comprehensive new water strategy, Manitoba will continue to experience significant challenges due to our inability to properly manage and adapt to the impact of climate change. We need to see co-operation between all government bodies within the Lake Winnipeg watershed and strong political partnerships. KAP also believes that research on the Lake Winnipeg watershed and its hydrologic cycles is a much needed step to developing an effective water strategy.

Our water problems, including the management of volumes during the spring and the overall quality, can not be addressed as independent issues. It is time for government to show leadership and commit to working with other stakeholders to develop and implement a water strategy for this province. As farmers, we manage a lot of the landscape and we have to become partners in that process.

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