Wetland Drainage Is The Hidden Culprit Behind This Year’s Flood

It is Sunday, June 26, exactly 71 days since the Pipestone Creek reached flood stage.

The Pipestone Creek originates south of Whitewood, Sask. and empties into Oak Lake, Man. This is not news to locals, but for those of you from other parts of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, you may not know its geographic location.

The mighty Assiniboine and Souris rivers justifiably receive all the media attention. However, we also are flooded from time to time, and as with everywhere else, this is the longest flood on record.

We have been unable to access our home by truck or car for 10 weeks.

The Manitoba government would lead you to believe “this one-in-350-year flood” was created by saturated soils from 2010, high winter snowfall and excessive spring and summer rains throughout western Manitoba and southeast Saskatchewan.

The real culprit behind this excessive water and prolonged flooding is wetland drainage, unrestricted and uncontrolled by the Saskatchewan government and paid lip service to by Manitoba.

Excuse me, not all drainage is uncontrolled in Saskatchewan. For example, this past winter Saskatchewan drained Fishing Lake into the Assiniboine with a pat on the back from Manitoba. How did excessive water get into Fishing Lake? Unrestricted drainage by surrounding landowners.

Consider the following facts:

Seventy per cent of all wetlands in the Prairie pothole region of North America are in the three Canadian Prairie provinces.

Fifty-five per cent of those wetlands occur in Saskatchewan.

More than 70 per cent of the wetlands in the Prairie provinces have been drained in the last 40 years (in excess of 600,000 acres in Saskatchewan) and current estimates place net wetland loss continuing at two per cent annually.

Over 50 per cent of the Assiniboine, Souris and their tributaries are in Saskatchewan and flow through what used to be some of the best wetland areas in North America.

I personally have seen satellite images of entire townships in Saskatchewan which drain directly into the Assiniboine. Do the math. Manitoba is only somewhat less guilty. Here, 250,000 wetland acres have been drained in southwestern Manitoba. All of these wetland drainages enter the Assiniboine and Souris River watersheds.

Apparently now you need a licence. Did you know the Manitoba government authorized 1,600 drainage permits in 2010? Some would say the loss and destruction of the wetland ecosystem in Western Canada equals the devastation of the Amazon forests in ecological magnitude.

People along the Assiniboine and Souris rivers, around Lake Manitoba and the Shoal Lakes have received the brunt of this unmitigated disaster. The Assiniboine River Diversion is a drainage of the Assiniboine River into Lake Manitoba and flooding into Shoal Lakes comes from drainage in adjacent municipalities.

Livestock producers have lost their livelihood for years, cottages and homes have been destroyed. Worse, human hearts and dreams have been shattered. People need an immediate apology and 100 per cent compensation for their financial and emotional losses. Nothing else is acceptable.

I know the immediate response is to build dikes higher, dig another ditch and pass the water on.

Unlike previous NDP and Conservative administrations, who have lacked the vision and intestinal fortitude to deal with drainage issues, future administrations must step up and show some backbone.

First the governments of North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Manitoba must meet with meaningful intentions of addressing drainage issues. I expect Manitoba and North Dakota will receive the same level of cooperation that landowners and municipalities in Manitoba and Saskatchewan have received from the Saskatchewan government downstream of the Moosomin Dam and associated drainage projects along the Pipestone.

Failure to implement preventive programs and end wetland drainage should result in whatever recourse is available to the affected parties.

Just imagine the millions of dollars municipal, provincial and federal governments are spending to replace destroyed infrastructure every time a flood occurs. Taxpayer dollars are being literally flushed down the toilet. Has any one political party ever calculated the true financial burden this drainage places on our society?

Manitoba’s next major flood could be worse than this one, and it will not take 350 years, let alone 20 years. “Neighbours need to act like neighbours or they are no neighbours of mine.”

Ian Milliken is a fourth-generation farmer who resides

along the Pipestone Creek north of Reston, Man. Since

1967, he has worked 30 years for the Province of Manitoba

in the wildlife field for the Canada Land Inventory and

the Department of Natural Resources Southwest Region,

Brandon and until recently as a field representative for the Manitoba Habitat Heritage

Corporation, Virden and Reston. In 1981, he returned

to the family farm, which was homesteaded in 1882, to operate

a purebred livestock business.

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