Road washouts, soil erosion and other water-related damage are nothing new to any municipality, but some parts of Manitoba are especially vulnerable.
Those living and farming around Riding Mountain National Park are all too familiar with the kind of havoc water rushing downstream creates.
With the steepest slopes in the province in their region, Inter-Mountain Conservation District officials say they have water and soil erosion problems — and then some,
Currently, they have almost $1 million worth of applications on file for projects to stabilize streams and fix erosion washouts, said IMCD manager Jeff Thiele told the Manitoba Conservation Districts Association last week.
“It’s just unbelievable. The situation is serious,” he said.
But they’re tackling the root of the problem too, as demonstrated by the recent construction of two dry dams that will slow water released from the higher elevations of Riding Mountain.
The IMCD has given special recognition recently to the farmer who agreed to hold that water on his land.
The water retention dams are constructed on land owned by Boris and Karen Michaleski, who farm southwest of Dauphin, in the Keld area.
With support from Growing Forward 2 funding and assistance like culvert donations from the Municipality of Gilbert Plains, IMCD staff worked with the Michaleski to construct two water-retention dams that will temporarily hold water on their farm fields during peak flows.
The sites include one smaller and one larger site, both which will hold water on their fields during peak flows, then slowly release it downstream.
“We’re actually flooding his grain land,” said Thiele. “How many producers do you know that would let us flood their wheat crop?”
The IMCD awarded the Michaleskis with a 2016 Conservation District Award last week, a distinction CDs offer to local landowners who exemplify good environmental practices that related to the vision of the MCDA.
Thiele said what they’re especially pleased about at IMCD is that they’ve not got a local site for field tours to explain the concept of temporary water hold back to other landowners. They want to take this proactive approach and build more dams in future, he said. But they need sites to demonstrate what and why they’re doing this.
“A lot of people learn by seeing, not just by talking,” Thiele said. “I find this is really a hard concept to understand and to explain to people.”
Boris Michaleski said the project is new so it remains to be seen how long water will actually flood their field. The dams were constructed this year.
“I’m expecting during peak flows it might hold water up to four or five days,” he said.
He’s willing to have that happen because he sees gains in the bigger picture, and says involvement with the local CD and initiatives like the Dauphin Lake Integrated Watershed Management Plan (IWMP) have helped him see the merits of holding water on land temporarily.
“I know drainage is critical to agricultural production but just continuously draining land and not managing that water creates other problems,” he said.
“I think we have to look at the whole picture when we approach drainage and water management and this is one of those ways. We can still have drainage but try to mitigate some of those negatives by having dry dams and other storage projects.”
Thiele said when the dry dam projects were underway they sent up drones to get aerial views of the construction sites. That was an eye opener.
There are massive volumes of water sitting at the higher elevations just inside Riding Mountain National Park boundary.
Thiele said the even bigger accomplishment that will come from these dry dam projects is ultimately changing our ways of thinking about water management.
He brought photos of a repeated road washout near Mineral Creek. It’s been rebuilt about five times in recent years using Disaster Financial Assistance (DFA), he said, adding that his own mother, who attended the school just up that road in the 1950s, notably doesn’t recall those kinds of repeated washouts occurring there.
“So something has changed there,” he said. “The result is sky high costs to municipalities and DFA programs, not to mention the environmental costs of sedimentation, flooding and water quality into Lake Dauphin and beyond.”
The IMCD has an ambitious plan to eventually reduce peak flows by 10 per cent in their area, Thiele continued.
“We want to be proactive and spend some money up stream doing water retention dams before the damages happen.”