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Province unveils new surface water management strategy

The province wants to stop the destruction of natural wetlands and swamps, which act as a filter before water goes into Lake Winnipeg.


The province wants to stop the destruction of natural wetlands and swamps, which act as a filter before water goes into Lake Winnipeg.

The Selinger government’s proposed plan to clean up Lake Winnipeg, and protect against a drought, includes tapping into its $5.5-billion infrastructure renewal plan.

The government says the $320 million set aside for flood protection and water control works will include surface water management projects, including tighter rules on agriculture drainage and developing water retention ponds to hold more excess water on the land. The money is in addition to about $4 million for on-farm water retention projects over the next five years through conservation districts, the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Ducks Unlimited Canada.

It’s part of the province’s new surface water management strategy released today by Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh.

Manitoba’s proposed Surface Water Management Strategy to be implemented by 2020 includes:

no net loss of wetland benefits - drainage licenses will be generally unavailable for permanent, semi-permanent and seasonal wetlands, and where they must be drained with no alternative, there must be mitigation to more than compensate for the loss of wetland benefits;
run-off retention pond network - research by the University of Manitoba will lead to proven retention pond models that will manage wet period run-off;
terminal basin management - lakes with no natural outlet will be better managed with watershed-based solutions including incoming drainage controls, adjusting land use where available and water diversion only when human health and residences are threatened;
more protected areas for wetland benefits - additional protected areas in agro Manitoba will hold more water on the land in natural grasslands and wetlands;
green infrastructure - storm water will be better managed by such options as porous pavement, green roofs, rainwater harvesting and urban retention works;
new Water Management Directorate - provincial government action will be co-ordinated by a new cross departmental management structure; and
new Interagency Surface Water Advisory Team - conservation districts, planning districts, municipalities and representatives of landowners will be invited to co-operatively plan surface water management within provincial watersheds.

Mackintosh said the blueprint at this point is just a consultation document with the goal of finalizing it — and creating regulations to back it up — over the next year.

You can comment on the proposed strategy.

By better managing excess water in the Lake Winnipeg drainage basin, Mackintosh said that would reduce the amount of nutrients going into the lake that contribute to summer algae blooms.

At the same time the province wants to stop the destruction of natural wetlands and swamps, which act as a filter before water goes into the lake.

He said about 75 per cent of original wetlands in Manitoba have been drained since industrial development began on the prairies, much of that in areas such as the Red River basin.

"Today we’re announcing that we will protect permanent and semi-permanent wetlands in law," he said, adding the province will also move to protect seasonal wetlands, roughly 275,000 acres in the province that typically dry up in midsummer.

The province gets about 100 applications each year to drain these seasonal wetlands, he said.

To address that, the province will work with farmers to reduce the red tape for minor drainage applications, promote on-farm water retention projects and crackdown on illegal drainage projects through increased fines.

"This is not a no-loss of wetlands policy," Mackintosh said. "It’s not a moratorium on wetland drainage. Instead, it’s a flexible, no-net-loss of wetlands benefits policy.

"We’re not saying you can’t drain. But if you absolutely must, and there’s no alternative to draining, you have to make up for the loss of the benefits to the environment by at least three to one, and we’ll have a discussion as to what the ratio of the compensation ratio should be."

That could include adding new wetlands to a property or by the purchase of "wetland credits" through the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation Ducks Unlimited Canada.

All of that, he said, still has to be worked out.

He added it’s vital for the province to be seen to be addressing the problems on Lake Winnipeg to get other jurisdictions in the drainage basin, like Saskatchewan and North Dakota, to buy into the Lake Friendly Accord.


Updated on Wednesday, June 11, 2014 at 2:58 PM CDT:

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Minister Ashton’s response acknowledging the Saskatchewan Drainage issue are surprising due to his comments in the past of downplaying the issue when he was approached by municipalities impacted by the 2011 flood. He needs to be corrected that the drainage is not illegal in Saskatchewan, their approval process is not as stringent as in Manitoba. He continues to skirt the issue of approaching the Province of Saskatchewan to work together and come to interprovincial regulations that would work for both parties. It is easy to point the finger, but a lot harder to do the work needed to resolve this ongoing issue. The Province has just unveiled a new surface water strategy, “Tomorrow Now” Manitoba’s Green Plan, an eight-year strategic action plan for mobilizing Manitobans to work together to protect the environment. A plan that may change MB agriculture’s footprint in this province inorder to accomplish the NDP government’s vision of becoming one of the most sustainable places to live on earth. SW MB is the buffer for the rest of MB when water is entering from the west and south of this province. “Tomorrow Now” needs to be understood by all of us to ensure the Province has the entire Province’s best interests in mind. We encourage agriculture producers to read the strategic plan and make comments or talk to your KAP, municipal council members and MLA with either agreement with the plan, impacts that have not been addressed, or where is the $ coming from to support and assist the producers.

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