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Licence exemption for minor drainage works removed

“The letter basically says you must permit all drains even before you do maintenance.”

– IAN WISHART, KAP

A recent letter from the province has farmers worried that Big Brother is about to swoop down on their drainage projects.

The notice from Manitoba Water Stewardship tells landowners “all water control works (i. e. drainage) must be licensed” and even shallow works are “no longer exempt.”

It warns that provincial water resource officers “will be closely monitoring activities this fall” and failure to comply “may result in enforcement action including the closure/restoration of works and/or fines.”

The notice raised a flurry of concern at a recent Keystone Agricultural

Producers general council meeting. Farmers had previously believed existing drains on their land would not require permits from the province.

“The maintenance on the existing ones, we were clearly under the impression initially that we wouldn’t have to permit those,” said KAP president Ian Wishart.

“The letter basically says you must permit all drains even before you do maintenance.”

Wishart said only farmers in southwestern Manitoba appear to have actually received the notice. He said it has caused “a fair bit” of concern among producers.

Not only is the content worrisome but the timing is bad. Farmers are

already in the middle of their annual fall drainage maintenance and don’t have permits because they didn’t know they needed them, Wishart said.

KAP met with Water Stewardship officials in early October to express its concerns.

Water Stewardship’s crackdown on drainage permits for minor water control works stems from a critical provincial ombudsman’s report earlier this

year. The ombudsman recommended the department amend the Water Rights Act to include a clearer definition of “maintenance.”

The policy now seems to be that every drain requires a licence, no matter how small, said Wishart.

“Our argument to them was, if you intend to do this, we will guarantee you that there will be hundreds of farmers in violation because there’s no way you can handle it.”

Manitoba has over 18 million acres of

improved and unimproved land in its 12 agricultural regions.

Water Stewardship says it will accept licence applications for minor water control works for more than one parcel of land at a time. A licence, once issued, is good for a lifetime. The fee is $25 per section of land, no matter how many drains are on it.

Farmers have six months to obtain the necessary licences for minor projects. In the meantime, they may continue the work.

New major works still require licences before they can go ahead.

Steve Topping, executive director of regulation and operational services for Water Stewardship, said the department is speeding up approval for minor works projects.

Topping said the department sent out its notice after accepting the ombudsman’s recommendation to eliminate the licence exemption for drainage works previously considered minor control.

He said the notice went to municipalities, some of whom may have chosen to include them in their tax notices to landowners.

The province has beefed up staff to administer its water control program. Topping said 14 new water resource officers have been hired in the past year.

Responding to farmers’ complaints that they didn’t know about the new policy on minor water control works, Topping said it was described in a back-grounder to a May 1 government news release.

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