Water Doesn't Stop at the Border — Need for Basin-Wide Approach in Assiniboine Watershed Recognized

The idea that municipal, provincial and national boundaries should be ignored when managing water is gaining momentum in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and northern North Dakota.

Around 150 delegates representing farm groups, landowners, conservation organizations, scientists and governments met in Regina last week to discuss plans for the Assiniboine River Basin Initiative.

The Assiniboine River Basin includes the Assiniboine, Qu'Apple and Souris river watersheds — around 182 thousand square kilometres (click to enlarge; source: Prairie Improvement Network.)
The Assiniboine River Basin includes the Assiniboine, Qu’Appelle and Souris river watersheds — around 182 thousand square kilometres — click to enlarge (source: Prairie Improvement Network)

“This type of approach, a basin-wide approach — I think people are realizing this is going to be the answer. People know they have to do something,” says Dan Mazier, a farmer from Justice, Manitoba, in the interview below. He’s also a vice-president for Keystone Agricultural Producers and on the planning committee developing the multi-jurisdictional forum for water management in the Assiniboine basin.

After major floods in 2011 and 2014, people in the basin — and governments — are recognizing the need to collaborate.

“There was a very clear direction to keep the momentum going — don’t back off the gas pedal,” Mazier says, noting the planning committee is currently seeking input on how ARBI’s board should be structured, and who should be represented.

As the stewards for most of the land in the watershed, it will be important farmers are at the table. Mazier says his presentation on how farmers view this issue was well-received.

“There’s talk about farmers doing too much drainage, how we have to bring back wetlands and put it back to the way it was in 1950. I basically said that’s not going to happen. It can’t happen various reasons, ” he says. “How frustrating it is to hear, after how we struggled to get the crop in, that I drain too much water, when there just simply was too much water in the basin. I was quite surprised how many people understood that, and thanked me for saying that.”

ARBI is being modelled after the Red River Basin Commission, which for more than a decade has brought officials from Manitoba, Minnesota and North Dakota together to work on water issues along the Red River. Mazier says a similar approach throughout the Assiniboine basin is overdue.

“Older guys have told me they thought of this years ago but there just wasn’t the will for it. I think everybody has a lot of hope for it — I hope the expectations aren’t too high, but with some perseverance and good communications here we could make some really good things happen.”

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