More Wetlands = less Flooding!

The latest simulated study conducted on the Smith Creek basin has identified many significant issues that will need to be debated throughout North America. Society will soon have to decide what value they want to place on wetland conservation versus achieving a sustainable, economic agricultural model for the future. Not in debate is the value of wetlands to our ecosystem. Agriculture understands more than any part of society the value of clean water, biodiversity, and wildlife preservation. What is in debate is how many are required and where do they need to be located. There will need to be a compromise in the development of a wetland strategy. Throughout the last 150 years of history, wetlands in North America have been drained and defined improving the productivity of the prairies significantly. We can easily quantify the value of a well designed, controlled water management system as emplified by the study found at “The Cost Benefit Analysis of Organized Drainage on the Regina Plains” released by the Moose Jaw Watershed Stewards Inc.

Wetlands are an important part of our ecosystem. Agriculture producers understand that. Currently the area set aside for wildlife and conservation lands in this part of the Prairie Pothole Region would be over 18%. In the dry cycles that number may be as low as 10%. What is the acceptable level of wetland retention and how much more land can be improved? Do we limit the expansion of our cities and urban settings which are also reducing and affecting wetland acreages? As urban development continues to sprawl over once productive agricultural lands what will be the acceptable number of acres that can be taken out of production and covered with asphalt further reducing water retention and penetration?

What is an adequate number of water fowl that society will be happy with? At the present time we can see the devastating effects that an overabundance of Canada and Snow geese have had on the arctic tundra as their population continue to expand exponentially. Now we have nesting pairs of geese in abundance throughout the agricultural producing area of the prairies in numbers that have now moved them into the category of pests with their own crop insurance coverage for production lost.

Another major concern evolving from this report is the inherent ability of many to point fingers without truly quantifying exactly how big is the issue? How much water from Smith Creek actually contributes to the net flow of the Assiniboine River. One has to question the wisdom of allowing urban development in sensitive areas evident by the malls and new subdivisions in the flats of Brandon, MB. . Cabin and cottage owners continue to build on flood plains and areas of risk. For how long will the taxpayer be responsible for their decisions to continue to build in these sensitive areas. At various times throughout the 19th and 20th century the Assiniboine river had expanded its’ footprint significantly before the days of improved drainage on both the Manitoba and Saskatchewan farm lands. Paddle wheelers were sent with supplies from Winnipeg to Kamsack, SK at the turn of the 20th century. Building along a river comes with many risks whether they happen 1 in 100 years or 1 in 10.

The latest study done on the Smith Creek Basin highlights the need for a well thought out management plan that will appease all stakeholders. Progress has allowed us to measure and calculate theoretical problems and identify potential risk factors. Unfortunately the study failed to identify what the current organized system of control structures, flow controls, correct sized outlets and the organized system of storage and accumulation did to mitigate overland flooding in the Smith Creek Basin area. Residents of the area in the flood years of 2011 and 2012 can provide countless stories and pictures of the thousands of acres of water that was held and stored for over 2 months controlling the flow of water into the Assiniboine basin flowing into Manitoba. There exists no comparable structured drainage system in place across the border in Manitoba. Without the Smith Creek system in place there is no doubt that the communities of Langenburg and area would have experienced significant damage. Systems such as these need to be better developed in all risk areas to reduce the overall liability to the province and in the end to all taxpayers.

The easiest solution to this problem would be to not do anything and wait for the “dry cycle” to return. Unfortunately if the climate change proponents are correct this may be the scenario we have to deal with for the future. Therefore change and compromise must be undertaken now. Who will lead the charge?

Dear Minister Moe:

Unfortunately many of our RM’s and ratepayers throughout the Prairie Pothole Region are facing some undue hardships as a result of some loosely structured legislation that has been in place for a number of years. The Conservations Easement Act in effect since January 31, 1997 has been utilized by numerous conservation groups and individuals to ensure the properties affected are placed into long term control by the easement holder in many cases for perpetuity. Although noble by design this has provided some long term issues for many jurisdictions.

The major group at the heart of the concern is Ducks Unlimited. They have been making a policy of purchasing a strategic parcel of land, contouring the land to increase water retention, filling in old watercourses and redeveloping the parcel to increase water holding capacity. Although they are not breaking any laws or statutes they are conveniently affecting significant areas surrounding their protected lands. Water levels in years of high water infiltration will then fill and spill well beyond their original easement. According to Ducks Unlimited 2013 financial report they proudly proclaim that they have 1,867,810 acres of secured land and they influence another 1,477,788 acres.

As agriculture producers we certainly respect any land holders rights to designate what they want to do with their land as long as they are within reasonable boundaries. However we have serious concerns when easements issued under the Conservation Easement Act affect other surrounding landowners including those further upstream and downstream. We are certainly aware that illegal ditching also fits into this category. Unfortunately some producers have been forced to take drastic measures because their ability to manage their land is now being curtailed due to increase water encroachment from surrounding wildlife lands. As this water leaves and the soils dry out, salinity levels have increased, adversely affecting the land’s ability to produce at levels previous to the water encroachment.

In numerous RM’s, Ducks Unlimited and other wildlife groups have become the single largest property owner. A multitude of issues have been arising with this domination. Decreasing land values due to their management practices has resulted in a lessening of tax revenues for the rural municipalities. Their overarching influence on the surrounding parcels they do not own has also resulted in the long term lowering of property values and taxable assessment further decreasing working capital for RM’s and increasing tax levels for the remaining tax payers. Increasing incidents of beaver damage have been noted with extra costs incurred in removing their natural structures and protecting municipal infrastructure. Also many conservation groups severely limit or even inhibit the municipality’s ability to control the pests on easement bound land. In the most severe cases the inability to maintain water levels has resulted in RM’s losing infrastructure. Replacing them has resulted in significant costs to the ratepayers.

A simple recommendation we would like to make to the Ministry is to amend the Conservation Easement Act to limit the water levels that exist on the easement land. Levels need to be maintained at a point that is agreeable to surrounding land owners to minimize surrounding land encroachment.

A second recommendation is to lessen the time a conservation easement can be taken out over, perpetuity is not a responsible option. Many situations and opportunities change over the decades. There are now numerous instances where, because of extremely long term easements, actions have been taken by the easement holder that have significantly reduced the ability of surrounding land owners to capitalize on rental or sale opportunities.
We would certainly be willing to consult with any further improvements to the Conservation Easement Act to ensure all stakeholders are treated fairly.


David Zerr
Sask Farm Stewardship Association
PO Box 147
Yorkton, SK
S3N 2V6