Posted by: Vicki Burns | April 4, 2012

Surface Water Management – Who Should Pay?

Yesterday I attended a day of discussions on the development of a Surface Water Management Strategy for Manitoba. It was put on the by Manitoba government, Conservation and Water Stewardship Department. There were representatives of environmental groups, agricultural industries, academics, scientists, municipal authorities and conservation districts. It is the beginning of a province–wide consultation on the many issues that would be involved in developing a comprehensive Surface Water Management Strategy. Those issues centre around drainage and flood prevention measures but have important implications for issues such as the eutrophication of our lakes, protection of drinking water and drought mitigation.

image of flloded land taken from the air

2011 Red River Flood - image by Joe Bryska

The province of Manitoba is still dealing with the bill of almost $1 billion as a result of last year’s flood. One of the presentations at the meeting yesterday was from Dr. Danny Blair, a professor in the Geography Department from the University of Winnipeg. His presentation focussed on Climate Change as a driver of water management and in relation to last year’s flood, his point was that we need to prepare for more extreme weather events like that. He said that “stationerity” (the concept of natural systems fluctuating within an unchanging window of variability) is dead. In other words, we cannot rely on the usual weather patterns from the past century because those patterns are no longer relevant.

His presentation reinforced my thought that it is time for bold and concrete measures to be undertaken to hold water on the land, to slow it from running off so fast during extreme weather events and to hold it as a drought prevention tactic as well. We already have the knowledge to implement some of this through wetland protection, wetland restoration, small dam structures, waffling techniques, etc. The crunch, as usual, is how to pay for it and who should pay. At yesterday’s meeting I was encouraged by the number of people who agreed that we need to create some additional tax so that everyone participates in paying for these measures. It ultimately benefits everyone, whether you’re a landowner, cottage owner, fisher, or resident of Winnipeg. So what is the best way to do this – an additional 1% sales tax, a carbon tax like B.C. has? I’m interested in any other ideas so pass them along, please.

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