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Province Announces Manitoba’s First Comprehensive Surface Water Management Strategy

June 11, 2014

$320-million Investment to Better Manage Floods, Droughts, Protect Lake Winnipeg; Regulations to Preserve Wetland Benefits; Cut Red Tape for Routine Drainage Projects: Ministers

Manitoba is proposing its first comprehensive Surface Water Management Strategy and multi-year surface water management investments to protect Lake Winnipeg and mitigate flood and drought damage, Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh and Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton announced today.

“Manitoba faces three water woes:  excessive nutrient loading of waterways that is harming Lake Winnipeg, damage from flooding and the risk of drought,” said Minister Mackintosh.  “All three can be mitigated with a new, sustainable approach to managing drainage and investing in flood control infrastructure.”

About 75 per cent of original wetlands in Manitoba have been drained since industrial development began on the prairies, much of that in areas such as the Red River basin, impairing the natural ability of waterways to retain, release and refresh water over time, Minister Mackintosh said, adding this strategy seeks to end further loss of the benefits that wetlands provide and includes a plan to overhaul drainage licensing that would streamline approvals for routine drainage while protecting seasonal wetlands.

Key stakeholders have developed a risk-based approach to drainage licensing which moves the focus of regulation from oversight of routine drainage and water retention to those projects with potentially serious environmental impacts.  Routine drainage and water retention works would have clear minimum standards, reduced wait times and associated costs, and earlier start times on the land, the minister said.  Seasonal and permanent wetland benefits would be protected, and breaches would be caught through spot audits and a crackdown on illegal projects, he said, adding violators would face significantly increased fines.

“Manitoba’s proposed regulatory process for drainage and water retention will improve wetland protection and help to mitigate the effects of climate change, flooding and nutrient loading on our lakes,” said Dr. Scott Stephens, director of regional operations – prairies, Ducks Unlimited Canada.  “The Manitoba government’s commitment to a no-net loss of wetland benefits approach should be commended as it demonstrates their resolve to mitigate environmental problems that are costing Manitoban’s significantly.”

According to Ducks Unlimited, it is estimated the protection of Manitoba’s 275,000 acres of seasonal wetlands would prevent over 200 tonnes of phosphorous from entering waterways annually, equal to about 750 hopper cars of phosphorous, and would provide the same water storage capacity as twice that of the Shellmouth Reservoir.

“Manitoba farmers, directly or indirectly, create 62,000 jobs and annually put $10 billion into the provincial economy,” said Doug Chorney, president, Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP).  “By improving flood protection and mitigating drought, this new regulatory process will help producers access their land and assist them in continuing to be a major economic driver.  KAP is pleased to have been a part of the development of these new regulations that will also control nutrient escape.”

As part of the province’s $5.5-billion infrastructure plan to grow the economy and invest in Manitoba’s future, $320 million has been dedicated to flood protection and water control infrastructure including surface water management, drainage, retention, dams and control structures. This is in addition to about $4 million that is expected to be invested in on-farm water retention projects over the next five years through conservation districts, the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation, the Nature Conservancy of Canada or Ducks Unlimited Canada, Minister Ashton said.

In addition, through the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) program, the province is helping farm managers identify the agri-environmental assets and the potential environmental effects of agriculture on the quality and supply of water resources.  Since 2004, over 6,000 producers have participated and completed an environmental farm plan, assessing over 9.3 million acres of land.

Minister Mackintosh said the Surface Water Management Strategy proposes 50 actions to be implemented by 2020 including:

no net loss of wetland benefits – drainage licenses will be generally unavailable for permanent, semi-permanent and seasonal wetlands, and where they must be drained with no alternative, there must be mitigation to more than compensate for the loss of wetland benefits;

run-off retention pond network – research by the University of Manitoba will lead to proven retention pond models that will manage wet period run-off;

terminal basin management – lakes with no natural outlet will be better managed with
watershed-based solutions including incoming drainage controls, adjusting land use where available and water diversion only when human health and residences are threatened;

more protected areas for wetland benefits – additional protected areas in agro Manitoba will hold more water on the land in natural grasslands and wetlands;

green infrastructure – storm water will be better managed by such options as porous pavement, green roofs, rainwater harvesting and urban retention works;

new Water Management Directorate – provincial government action will be co-ordinated by a new cross departmental management structure; and

new Interagency Surface Water Advisory Team – conservation districts, planning districts, municipalities and representatives of landowners will be invited to co-operatively plan surface water management within provincial watersheds.

“By working together, we have developed a regulatory process that helps landowners and municipalities to complete work quickly and in a holistic, comprehensive approach that limits impacts downstream,” said Doug Dobrowolski, president, the Association of Manitoba Municipalities.

The province also announced that a summit on tile drainage will be held in early summer to hear perspectives on the impact of tile drainage on farms and waterways.

The public is asked to comment on the proposed Surface Water Management Strategy and the Towards Sustainable Drainage consultation document by Dec. 31 by visiting the department’s website at

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