WSA needs to resolve drainage disputes faster: ombudsman

A Saskatchewan couple had to wait more than two years for the Water Security Agency to resolve a drainage dispute with a neighbour, but a spokesperson says the complaints system has changed so it won't happen again

Couple waited more than 2 years for Water Security Agency to order neighbour to fix ditches

Saskatchewan's ombudsman investigated a case where a farming couple waited more than two years for the Water Security Agency to investigate a complaint about a neighbour's ditches (Submitted by Cliff Trinder)

The case of a Saskatchewan farming couple who waited more than two years for the Water Security Agency to resolve a drainage dispute with a neighbour shouldn't happen again, a spokesman says.

Patrick Boyle said the agency has overhauled how it deals with drainage complaints since the couple's situation arose in 2010.

"That's not how we want to operate," he said.

26 months, 2 investigations

The couple's saga was the subject of an investigation by Saskatchewan's ombudsman published in March 2016 and mentioned in the annual report released Thursday.

In September 2010, a couple that owns a farm in south-central Saskatchewan contacted the agency to complain about a neighbour who built 11 drainage ditches on land near their home.

The couple said the neighbour's ditches were causing flooding on their property and he was refusing to do anything.

According to the ombudsman's findings, the agency inspected the ditches within 18 days of the couple's initial request and found them to be illegal.

However, it took the agency nearly 13 months to release any results.

Ombudsman Mary McFadyen released her office's annual report for 2016 this week. (CBC)

"Even though the WSA staff were responding to an increase in complaints at the time, we found that the WSA had no policies or procedures to ensure it was able to manage the requests in a timely manner," the report reads.

The report says instead of ordering the neighbour to fix the ditches right away, the agency only recommended that he do so, which he didn't.

That led to the couple having to pay $200 to initiate a formal complaint.

The ombudsman found it took six months to begin that investigation and 13 more months for the neighbour to be issued a formal order.

"Even though the WSA determined the neighbour's ditches had not been properly approved just 18 days into the informal request for assistance process, it did not consider making an order until the end of the formal process some 26 months later," the report reads.

The agency reported the neighbour finally fixed his ditches in October 2014.

New system in place

As a result of the investigation, the ombudsman made a series of recommendations for the agency to change how it processes drainage complaints.

Boyle said many of the concerns were addressed when the agency introduced its new agricultural water management strategy in 2015, which effectively streamlined the entire process.

"The whole thing has changed completely," he said.

Under the new system, Boyle said, a landowner is required to have a permit for any drainage work they build. If they don't, they will be told to get one — simple as that.

Requests for assistance can now also be processed within 90 days, he said.

Boyle added that no formal complaints have emerged since the change.

Ombudsman complaints

In 2016, the ombudsman reported receiving 12 complaints against the agency, compared to 13 in 2015 and 15 in 2014.

Since 2015, four of those complaints have been in regards to the complaints process itself, a spokesperson from the office said.