Fear and uncertainty over what new drainage regulations will look like in Saskatchewan have contributed to flooding in Manitoba, according to a resource specialist for Ducks Unlimited.
“Drainage has consequences,” said Charles Deschamps of Ducks Unlimited in Wadena, Sask. “There is that mentality and most people’s reaction is that if there are changes coming that you might be better off to get ahead of them.”
Last year, the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency started the process of redrafting the province’s drainage regulations.
The government gathered information via an online forum ending in March, and Deschamps believes in the next 12-18 months after another round of discussions with stakeholders, there should be extensive legislation in place to govern drainage.
What’s not clear is whether existing drainage will be grandfathered in, how wetlands will be monitored, and the consequences for breaking the regulations.
That means for some, if you’re going to add drainage, do it now.
Deschamps said there needs to be more education about the importance of wetlands.
According to Duck Unlimited data, approximately 28 acres of wetlands are removed per day in Saskatchewan.
“Wetlands provide all types of benefits, from carbon sequestration to flood and drought mitigation,” Deschamps said. “Those functions are diminished when they are converted to cropland.”
The end result is more flooding downstream, and end reserves that continue to get larger.
Much of the water drained ends up in Lake Winnipeg, and according to the latest flood report from the Manitoba government, it’s under a flood watch.
While billions of dollars have been committed to flood-proofing infrastructure by governments, Deschamps said little has been done on the other end, preserving what amounts to natural sponges that mitigate the floods in the first place.
“Even with incentives, there are some producers that you couldn’t pay them enough,” Deschamps said. “It’s very limited funding right now to restore wetlands and we could definitely use more funding and more partners like government putting money toward wetland restoration as solutions for mitigating some of these damages from floods that we are seeing.”
Better scientific data on the destruction of wetlands is aiding in the fight, he said.
A recent study of the Smith Creek Research Basin by the Center for Hydrology at the University of Saskatchewan found that wetland drainage “has a strong impact on streamflow in flood conditions.”
Over six years of computer and model simulation from 2007 to 2013, the study said total streamflow volumes in the area increased by 55 per cent.
That extra water is pushed further and further downstream until it leads to overland flooding in many cases.
“People need to understand the benefits of wetlands,” Deschamps said. “It’s still a relatively new concept and drainage has been occurring for decades. Many producers don’t think much about draining a small pothole, but it has a cumulative effect downstream.”
» Twitter: @CharlesTweed