There are always two sides to a given coin, and that is certainly the case when it comes to what to do with sloughs and wetlands in a farm field.
Producers of course want to cultivate every acre as a way to generate maximum dollars.
That is generally a simple approach which makes sense, at least to a point.
There are of course costs, and potential issues, associated with draining a wetland, and even once drained, the wettest years may well leave it impossible to seed, or harvest.
The issues are well-understood. Land drainage has created many problems over the years, often pitting neighbour against neighbour.
It is of course a reality when a farmer ditches to drain a wetland on their farm that water must go somewhere, and while it may sometimes have been diverted into a natural waterway capable of handling the additional water, in other cases that water ended up on neighbouring land, not always a happy occurrence.
While there have been rules to follow for some time in terms of drainage, the interpretation of those rules by some farmers has been rather broad, and as a result the reality of drainage was haphazard.
Now to fulfil commitments in the 25-Year Saskatchewan Water Security Plan, the Water Security Agency (WAS) is moving ahead with a new approach to drainage management. The new approach will move Saskatchewan toward responsible agricultural water management by streamlining the regulatory system, effectively addressing the risks associated with drainage in the approval process, and enabling development of sustainable drainage projects with more long-term certainty.
That all sounds smooth and simple, but the bottom line is farmers are going to be ditching to drain wetlands legally without a plan, which will have development costs associated with it, is in place and is approved by the appropriate authority.
The old systems never worked, so one hopes this latest incarnation works without being too onerous on those involved.
But a more basic question should be if there is a better option to draining every slough and pothole?
There is an obvious benefit to wetlands, from on-the-land storage capacity for spring and rain-event run-off, to habitat for a range of wetland critters. In both examples the benefits are far more ones of the greater public good than to a specific farmer who owns the land.
So there would seem merit in public support of maintenance of such wetlands.
Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS), a community-developed, farmer-delivered program that provides support to farmers and ranchers to enhance and maintain nature’s benefits, is a step in that direction.
It is not the complete answer for farmers maintaining fringe lands in a natural state, but it is a good program upon which to build to provide farmers a good reason not to worry about drainage regulations because they will have a better reason to maintain those lands.