Farmers disappointed after Manitoba scraps proposed wetland drainage amendments
Manitoba government will continue to prohibit drainage of protected, semi-protected wetlands
New measures to help Manitoba farmers drain their fields don't go far enough to address persistent flooding issues, an agriculture lobby group says.
Keystone Agricultural Producers was led to believe the province was considering legislative amendments that would have allowed producers to drain permanent and semi-permanent wetlands on their lands. In exchange, landowners or developers would have been required to provide compensation to restore any wetland loss due to drainage activities.
Instead, the provincial government decided against the proposed amendment, as a slate of new regulations announced Wednesday continue to prohibit any drainage of Class 4 and Class 5 wetlands — those considered semi-permanent or permanent.
The province also vowed to use an online portal for drainage licensing requests, and to reduce red tape for low-impact drainage projects.
While one conservation group said the decision to prevent drainage of Class 4 and 5 wetlands is a positive one, Keystone Agricultural Producers says the amendments that were announced Wednesday were largely a letdown.
Regulations fall short: KAP
"We landed not too far from where we were 15 years ago, other than a streamlined digital filing process, which will be beneficial but maybe not everything we'd hoped for," said Mitch Janssens, a farmer near Boissevain and vice-president of KAP.
He understands a balance must be struck between conservation groups worried about wetland loss and farmers who want productive fields and pastures.
Janssens was hopeful the province weighed that concern and would move forward with rules to allow for improved agricultural land that isn't bogged down by sloughs, as well as beneficial wetlands.
"I definitely understand the need to preserve wetlands, especially when you get talking about healthy, productive wetlands, but the current regulations don't really lay out the quality of the wetlands or the actual benefit," he said.
Under the new regulations announced Wednesday, draining Class 4 and Class 5 wetlands is still forbidden, but other, less permanent wetlands can be drained with a permit.
In the new system, Class 3 wetlands can be emptied if the landowner or producer offers sufficient compensation, while Class 1 and Class 2 wetlands can be managed with government permission.
Janssens noted the government has streamlined the drainage application process on Class 1 and Class 2 wetlands, with a turnaround time of 14 days or less for applications, which he said is a beneficial change.
Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires agrees.
"We were seeing a backlog of drainage applications that [lasted] years," she said in an interview.
"We committed to the farmers that we would make fast work of building a process where they could get expedited service, where they wouldn't have to wait months or years to hear back from the province to get a permit to drain on their land."
Conservation group encouraged
Squires wouldn't explain why the government decided to keep the ban on some wetland drainage, citing a vigorous consultation process with farmers, conservation groups and others that she says influenced the province's decisions.
Conservation groups were worried the province would lose wetlands if it permitted the drainage of Class 4 and Class 5 wetlands, CBC News reported earlier this year.
Dimple Roy, director of water management for the International Institute for Sustainable Development, said the province's recent response is heartening.
"It is extremely encouraging to see the province protect Class 4 (semi-permanent), and 5 (permanent) wetlands, precluding the issuance of drainage licences for these most valuable natural resources," Roy said in an emailed statement.
"We are also encouraged to see a step towards greater transparency within the process of drainage applications, with the launch of the new Water Licensing Portal that will give the public access to a map of water control works and water use authorizations under The Water Rights Act."
Class 1-2: short-lived wetlands, mainly existing in spring after winter snow melts or big rains.
Class 3: semi-permanent, lasts fewer than five months.
Class 4: semi-permanent, lasts more than five months.
Class 5: permanent.
With files from Bryce Hoye