Mobilizing communities to act for the restoration and protection of Manitoba’s water resources was one of the main themes of the water-tech workshop held this week in Brandon.
More than 50 delegates representing industry, agriculture, government and environmental non-governmental organizations met at a one-day workshop to discuss the benefits to be derived from effective collaboration versus the risks of inaction.
It was hosted by the Manitoba Environmental Industries Association (MEIA).
Keynote speaker Lorne Fitch, from the Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society, a group more commonly known as Cows and Fish, struck a chord from the beginning of the day with his narrative about the early days of finding support for protecting waterways in Alberta’s cattle country.
"If you don’t do anything, nothing happens," Fitch said.
This simple statement about the paradox of changing people’s thinking with respect to environmental issues became the unofficial theme of this productive daylong workshop.
Participants were able to identify many of the barriers to innovation that currently exist and to suggest ways to motivate and nurture solution-oriented thinking.
Inertia is hard to overcome, but this group of homegrown experts was able to draw a picture of current concerns; and just as importantly, they were able to point out a number of directions where momentum for change already exists.
For example, during his panel session, Dan Mazier from Keystone Agricultural Producers shared his thoughts about flood mitigation and protection of cropland through water impoundment.
This method provides storage for spring floodwater and summer rainfall events. It mimics the natural retention of water on the landscape. By slowing peak flows, riparian areas along waterways are protected from the erosion caused by ever increasing high water levels that have resulted from draining Manitoba’s wetlands and prairie potholes.
Meanwhile, the consensus among workshop participants was that what appears to be lacking at the moment is clear leadership and co-ordination that would enable effective collaboration among the many agencies and organizations working on water issues.
The current piecemeal approach to problems means that there is often duplication of effort as small groups tackle similar projects across the province.
It was suggested that planning be done on a watershed basis, rather than the somewhat less functional municipal boundaries that currently shape this type of planning.
In addition, sharing local success stories will help inspire other communities to try innovative solutions to their water issues.
"Look to what was before deciding what should be," was a concept voiced by John Whitaker, a beef producer and fisheries biologist from the Erickson area.
This was another current that rippled through the day’s presentations and conversations emphasizing the pairing of scientific knowledge with local wisdom. Consensus was that studying and respecting the land’s history will prove useful in seeking solutions for the future.
And MEIA is putting Manitoba’s water-tech sector at the forefront of society’s changing perspectives about water resource protection.
Workshop discussion included the myth that what is good for the environment is bad for the economy and how that is simply not true. Everyone benefits when Manitoba’s water resources are protected. Jobs are created and Manitoba becomes known as a leader in environmental protection. Consumers and taxpayers get cost-effective solutions that deliver better results than ever before.
The enthusiastic response from influential leaders in industry, agriculture, government and ENGOs points to their keen interest to embark on a more co-ordinated approach to address the issues.
MEIA, working in partnership with the Industrial Research Assistance Program, has pledged to do their part to keep the discussion going through a series of workshops this winter.
These workshops form part of a larger project funded by the National Research Council to help Manitoba’s water-tech sector focus its research and development initiatives on the existing and emerging environmental issues facing Manitobans, as well as to connect municipal leaders and other consumers with the solutions that will best fit their needs.
The water-tech sector encompasses water and wastewater treatment technologies, surface water management, and nutrient management.