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Consulting on the trickle down effect

As part of the province’s 25-year water security plan, there is an initiative to tackle the issues surrounding unauthorized agricultural drainage.
David Pattyson

As part of the province’s 25-year water security plan, there is an initiative to tackle the issues surrounding unauthorized agricultural drainage.

Consultations with farmers and other stakeholders were held last winter, and the discussions are now moving to other bodies with an interest in updating the aging regulations that govern drainage.

One of those groups the Water Security Agency will be consulting with is the Upper Souris Watershed Association, and co-ordinator David Pattyson, who said the watershed association has lots of experience when it comes to managing drainage projects.

“Our comments are going to focus on some of the experiences we’ve had out in the field dealing directly with producers,” he said. “One lesson to be learned is if producers are contacted and included on these types of projects, usually they are quite anxious to plan to (a properly) managed project.”

The watershed association has offered a drainage stewardship program and has an ongoing wetland restoration program.

“We’ve been working directly with landowners for several years now on this very issue,” noted Pattyson.

He said producers generally want to do the right thing and have a properly designed project if they are undertaking any work regarding water or drainage. Any new rules won’t be about restriction as much as they are about restructuring the system for easier access for those projects that don’t have downstream consequences.

“One of the major challenges for government is to decide the balance between having a regulated system of drainage and having something that is user friendly so that producers are able to understand, access it and manage their drainage works within regulations,” said Pattyson.

“Without compromising the quality of projects, are there things that can be done to make the whole process more user friendly?”

Pattyson doesn’t anticipate a complete overhaul of the current regulations.

“Generally speaking, the existing regulations have had a fair degree of thought put into them. I think what we may see is a streamlining of the regulatory process, bringing it a little more up to date from what it is today.”

The online public consultation from last winter contained three activities:

The development of an online community for stakeholders to contribute their thoughts on specific issues surrounding agricultural drainage;

A telephone and online survey of stakeholders to measure support of various policy options; and

In-person meetings between online community members and WSA representatives.

Between October 2013 and April 2014 the discussions attracted about 500 participants who examined the various options for managing drainage.

Pattyson said particularly one idea brought forth intrigued him, and considers it one part of the new framework he hopes to see be incorporated into the final policy. That involves treating projects differently based on size, scope and expected impact to the environment.

After having dealt with a number of projects of varying scope, Pattyson said treating projects on a case-by-case basis may be the way of the future.

“One size, maybe doesn’t fit all,” he added. “At the end of the day, the project on the ground should have either no or very minimal downstream impact. The project should be a good project. The challenge is how to fit that within a regulatory framework that works to accomplish that task.”

He said the regulations may also be flexible to different priorities of projects. For instance, a project that is very small, and has a minimal impact, may not require the full permitting that a larger more organized drainage work may encompass.

“I have certainly found that concept intriguing,” said Pattyson. “I’m sure the regulators in government will give that serious consideration.”

Over the next several months, he expects those considerations will become more defined.