With Assiniboine River water levels high, the Portage Diversion operating and the NDP indicating it will take seven years to construct an additional Lake Manitoba outlet, it’s not surprising Manitobans are looking for shorter-term solutions with real results.
With any flood mitigation strategy, there is no single component that will solve the problem. Instead, it will be several projects — such as rural municipalities cleaning out their ditches and rebuilding dikes along the Assiniboine.
We often look to other jurisdictions to see what they’ve done and what we can replicate, but in one case we don’t have to look any further than the RM of Blanshard.
This is where the Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) program began in 2006 as a pilot project initiated by the Keystone Agricultural Producers and Delta Waterfowl Foundation. ALUS offers landowners a financial incentive to offset costs of maintaining wetlands.
Manitoba has lost or degraded almost 70 per cent of our wetlands. Wetlands are a natural, sustainable solution to many of our water issues. Wetlands also play an important role in flood prevention, habitat protection, improving water quality and reducing the impacts of climate change.
Recent studies by Saskatchewan Prof. John Pomeroy show wetland restoration has a positive impact on flood conditions. According to the study, restoration of wetlands to 1958 levels would have decreased the 2011 flood peak and annual stream flow volume by approximately one-third.
It may not be realistic to turn the wetland clock back 60 years, but what if we went back 30 years? Any sensible person would agree a 15 per cent reduction in Assiniboine water levels in 2014 would have had a noticeable impact downstream and more importantly, reduced an estimated $200 million in damages to provincial infrastructure.
The success of ALUS came from the fact it was voluntary and recognizes incentives are a better conservation tool than regulations or the outright purchase of lands.
The ALUS pilot project cost less than $2 million and estimates to expand ALUS provincewide are around $25 million. So we can collectively spend hundreds of millions of dollars repairing flood damages, or we can invest a small portion to create permanent sustainable solutions.
Other provinces like P.E.I. have taken our idea and run with it. Unfortunately for Manitobans, ALUS remains a pilot project. If the recent flood taught us anything, it’s time for the NDP to move ALUS from pilot to policy.
Critic, Conservation and Water
PC MLA for Morris