The Government of Manitoba has announced changes to the Water Rights Act, changes the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) say will make it harder — not easier — for farmers to control water on their land.
The Pallister government has launched a “new approach” to the act which will streamline the approval process for producers and landowners. This will also protect Manitoba’s wetlands by implementing the commitment to ‘no-net-loss’ of wetland benefits, according to Rochelle Squires, Minister of Sustainable Development.
According to a news release, new regulations for drainage and water control will:
- Provide consistent regulatory regimes for drainage and water control works including a new streamlined registration process for applications and approvals;
- Reduce red tape and provide timely approvals for lower-risk and lower-impact projects;
- Increase focus on reviewing higher-risk and higher-impact projects;
- Ensure requirements for landowner sign-off are consistent with expected impacts;
- Harmonize provincial approvals for projects that require a licence under The Environment Act;
- Improve surface water management co-ordination and communication by providing stronger linkages with watershed management plans and municipal development plans that influence land-use decision-making; and,
- Increase protection of seasonal wetlands by requiring compensation for higher-impact projects.
Multiple Manitobans were consulted and the government in return, received more than 250 responses from individuals and stakeholder groups.
KAP wants change
The vice-president for KAP says the new regulations pose a net negative to farmers and to the agriculture industry. Mitch Janssens says, “We are surprised that the provincial government reversed course on what was proposed during the consultation process in terms of Class 4 and 5 wetlands, and these regulations can impede a farmer’s ability to control water on their land.”
The producer group points out that further clarification is needed when it comes to the Growing Outcomes in Watersheds (GROW) program, along with recommending that more work needs to be done by the province to, “ensure that beneficial management practices (BMP) program funding is approved in a timely manner.” Currently there are few details when it comes to the program, and KAP has said on multiple occasions that the BMP funding has been slow to get to farmers when they need it most. There is still confusion around the process of who’s eligible and how to apply for funding.
“Farmers want to be part of the solution to climate change and protecting their livelihoods from its effects, but the provincial government needs to ensure that farmers are compensated in an adequate and timely manner for the work they are already doing,” Janssens says.
On a positive note, the organization does applaud the government for taking steps to address administrative challenges, and for committing departmental staff to resolve drainage disputes that can occur between landowners. “This process is not yet complete, and we hope that the department will continue to include KAP in further consultations going forward.”