Consultations to begin on Sask. agricultural drainage

The Saskatchewan government is asking citizens for their views on agricultural drainage through an online forum running from Sept. 1 through to March 31, 2014.

“We’re looking for input and opinions because drainage has been an issue for a while and the 25-year plan (for water management) identified it as an area of concern to be addressed,” Patrick Boyle, a spokesman for Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency said in an interview.

The process is restricted to Saskatchewan residents because it will lead to new drainage regulations for the province, Boyle said.

Some Manitobans, especially near the Saskatchewan border, have complained that new and unapproved drainage there has contributed to flooding on this side of the border.

The Saskatchewan government is aware of Manitoba’s concerns and works directly minister-to-minister and through the Prairie Provinces Water Board, Boyle said.

The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) supports the consultation and is pleased it will soon begin, said association president Norm Hall.

“This needs to be well advertised to the public so a proper voice will be put forward by producers because otherwise it will just be the squeaky wheel, either pro or con,” he said. “But we need to hear from everybody.”

Saskatchewan needs a water management plan urgently — one that both flood- and drought-proofs the province — but because the issues are complex it must also be done carefully, Hall said.

There needs to an overarching plan for the province that’s implemented at the local watershed authority and conservation district level, he added.

“We had a toothless tiger (regulating drainage) and not a very well-organized one either,” Hall said.

Saskatchewan farmers are supposed to get a permit before draining water that leaves their land, but many haven’t, Hall said.

APAS knows farmers need to drain excess water to maximize production, but the impact on farmers downstream, including those in Manitoba, needs to be considered too, he said.

About a year ago the province unveiled its 25-Year Saskatchewan Water Security Plan, describing it as “a forward-looking document that seeks to deal with water issues not currently being addressed or in need of review or revitalization.”

At the same time the government created the Water Security Agency, which pulled all of the departments dealing with provincial water issues into one organization.

The plan also says there are calls for the government “to respond to unauthorized drainage with increased enforcement.”

Properly constructed drainage projects with controls could be effective, the plan says. Education, effective management options, tools for conflict resolution, an appropriate regulatory and compliance framework (including possible financial incentives and/or penalties) and increased enforcement are potential solutions.

Farmers and others can have their say online.

The agency has hired Insightrix Research of Saskatoon to create and oversee the forum, which the agency said is now accepting participants who’ll be asked to participate in a series of discussions and surveys.

— Allan Dawson is a reporter for the Manitoba Co-operator at Miami, Man. A version of this article appeared in the Aug. 22, 2013 issue (page 3).

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