WINNIPEG — The provincial Progressive Conservatives say Manitoba must do more to prevent the loss of wetlands in agriculture areas.
They say improved wetland management is one of the keys to mitigating future floods.
Tory Leader Brian Pallister said Wednesday that if he were elected premier he would expand the Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) program, which provides incentives to farmers to protect wetlands and grasslands.
He said while ALUS has existed in pilot form, it’s time to make it provincewide — a move that would cost an estimated $20 million to $30 million.
Presumably the cost would be shared with other levels of government and private partners, he said.
It’s estimated that in Manitoba and Saskatchewan combined, the equivalent of one section (one square mile) of wetlands is lost each week, Pallister said.
“We can no longer afford to ignore wetlands loss,” he told a news conference Wednesday. “I think the key point that we want to make today is that conservation pays.”
Pallister said the benefits of wetlands preservation extend beyond flood protection. Such lands also serve to filter contaminants and preserve habitat.
The governing NDP mocked the Tories’ conservation stance, calling it “uninformed.”
Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh said he was “pleased to see at long last” that the Conservatives were supporting the province’s water management efforts.
In June, the government announced a $320-million surface water management strategy that included a wetlands component.
Mackintosh said the Tories don’t appear to realize the extent of efforts already being undertaken in Manitoba to prevent surface runoff and protect wetlands.
The results have gone beyond a couple of pilot projects, he said.
“Since 2012 alone, 166 water retention projects have been completed by the (province’s) conservation districts,” Mackintosh said.
A year ago, more money was promised for surface water retention efforts by the federal-provincial Growing Forward 2 initiative, he said.
So far, about $1.5 million has flowed from that announcement, he added.
“They (the Tories) should become better informed about what conservation districts are doing,” Mackintosh said of the partnerships that involve local municipalities, farmers and the province.
» Winnipeg Free Press