Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government introduced new legislation on Thursday aimed at protecting wetlands, while simplifying minor drainage maintenance.
The Sustainable Watersheds Act also lays the foundation for an ecological goods and services program that would see farmers receive incentives for implementing best management practices that are in the public good, such as grassland and wetland restoration, water retention projects, and management of riparian areas.
“Manitoba’s farmers have always been excellent stewards of the land and this legislation would give them the unique opportunity to participate in environmental solutions to issues facing our province,” said Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler in a news release. “We look forward to working with agricultural producers on protecting the valuable function of wetlands, while still promoting land use and development.”
According to the province, the proposed act includes the following changes:
- new requirements that would ensure drainage projects do not result in loss of certain classes of wetlands;
- modernizing drainage inspection and enforcement tools, and increasing penalties for illegal drainage;
- allowing the establishment of nutrient targets to help measure water quality across jurisdictions;
- changing the name of conservation districts to watershed districts;
- expanding the mandate of the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation to include wetland protection, mitigation and restoration;
- supporting transboundary water management for improved water quality and reduced impacts of flooding and drought;
- modifying drainage licensing processes to focus on high-impact projects; and
- modernizing the Conservation Districts Program to strengthen watershed management planning and implementation including the ability to enter into agreements with Indigenous communities.
Keystone Agricultural Producers president Dan Mazier said he’s pleased the act includes revised drainage regulations that would “reduce red tape for minor maintenance projects, but increase focus on larger initiatives – a good balance to protect both upstream and downstream landowners.”
“I urge other jurisdictions in the watersheds to follow Manitoba’s lead and revisit their regulatory systems to provide better economic and environmental protection,” continued Mazier.
After holding consultations earlier this fall, the province is planning to implement an ecological goods and services program based on the Alternative Land Use Services or ALUS model. The program will be called GRowing Outcomes in Watersheds or GROW. (Read more about the GROW proposal here.)
“Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) shares the goal of enhancing ecological goods and services on the agricultural landscape,” noted Mazier. “Farmers are uniquely positioned to do this, and with the help of GROW programming we can provide flood mitigation, carbon sequestration, nutrient capture and habitat protection. These are benefits for all Manitobans.”