More Wetlands Letter to Editor

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?