WAWOTA, Sask. — Lane Mountney spreads a map over his kitchen table at his farmhouse in southeast Saskatchewan, pointing to yellow and orange arrows slithering across the document.
Many of the arrows represent existing channels and ditches, moving across fields and out of wetlands to drain water. The arrows eventually make their way to a creek, causing what he describes as a deluge of problems downstream.
“All these years, guys have gotten away with draining water and the next guy figures he can get away withit,” Mountney said in an interview at his farm near Wawota, Sask., about 200 kilometres southeast of Regina.
“If this keeps going like it has, I don’t know what Saskatchewan’s going to look like in 10 years.”
Mountney’s map depicts what’s called the Wawken Drainage Project, a plan developed by the local watershed group that has since been taken over by the Water Security Agency, which is responsible for overseeing drainage in Saskatchewan.
The project is nearly 14 square kilometres and contains 880 wetlands of various sizes representing a total of 2.4 square kilometres of water.
A project document indicates that 88 per cent of these wetlands have been drained, partially drained or farmed. About 12 per cent remain intact.
Most of this water is supposed to flow into a creek that runs through a parcel of Mountney’s land.
The plan developers believe the creek can handle the flows, but Mountney is not convinced.
Last year, he and his wife, Sandra Mountney, dealt with flooding ontheir horses’ pasture. They decided not to use their well water at the time because it was yellow.
“They were very excited to tell us that nobody inside the project area is going to lose acres, but they haven’t even looked at who’s going to lose acres miles down the line.” Sandra Mountney said.
Brent Fry, who farms grain and livestock, said it’s common for his land to flood for three days when people upstream get 50 millimetres of rain.
He said it has caused roads and access points to erode.
“There are about four farms out there and all they’re doing is draining whether they’ve got permission or not,” Fry said. “I don’t even know what to do because the government’s not doing anything — they’re siding with the big guys.”
Farmers have drained water in Saskatchewan for generations and many have done so illegally by digging ditches without permits.
Most producers drain because it allows them to grow more crops, helping them pay for land that has become increasingly expensive. However, it has caused yearly flooding for people downstream. Roads also wash out and habitat gets lost.
At the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities convention in February, reeves passed a resolution asking the Water Security Agency to require those who are illegally draining to remediate their unapproved works.
Saskatchewan legislation requires upstream landowners to receive permission from those downstream when they want to drain, but many say that’s not happening.
Sandra Mountney said the Water Security Agency hasn’t been taking concerns seriously.
“It’s hard to know who’s really protecting our waterways,” she said.
The Wawken project began about three years ago but hasn’t been completed. It’s among many drainage projects underway.
Daniel Phalen, a watershed planner, worked on the project as technician before he left for another job.
He said landowners had been draining water with no permits before the plan. His job was to determine how many wetlands were drained and what works had already been done.
Phalen said the plan was to put in structures that would slow down the drainage to reduce problems downstream.
It’s unclear what work had been done on the Wawken project to mitigate flows since Phalen left. The Water Security Agency did not respond to a request for comment.
Phalen said projects can get held up if affected landowners don’t come to an agreement. Expropriation is allowed but it’s rare, he said.
Another nearby drainage plan, known as the Martin project, has stalled because of landowner concerns.
Researchers have estimated Saskatchewan has lost half of its total wetlands over time for crop production.
Phalen, who also worked on the Martin plan, said it was concerning to see the number of wetlands sucked out.
“The Water Security Agency doesn’t have the manpower to do much about it,” Phalen said. “There’s such low enforcement already that if they had any policies in place, people would just drain anyways. It’s kind of a scary problem to be in.”
Sandra Mountney said she’s worried about losing wetlands because they help recharge groundwater supplies and filter contaminants — particularly important when it’s dry.
The Water Security Agency has released a drainage management framework that aims to prevent flooding and ensure Saskatchewan retains a “sufficient” number of wetlands.
Leah Clark, the Interim Executive Director of Agriculture Water Management, told attendees at a Saskatchewan Farm Stewardship Association meeting earlier this year that 43 per cent of wetlands are retained within approved projects. She added the province has “thriving” wildlife populations.
However, she said under the policy, landowners would be able to select which wetlands to retain.
“It will achieve a working landscape for landowners to continue to use their land for farming and ranching. This approach will allow for new development while retaining current drainage,” she said.
Phalen said Saskatchewan could look to Manitoba for solutions to retain wetlands.
Manitoba has historically drained most of its wetlands in the agricultural regions, he said, but the province has since developed a policy where landowners are paid for retaining them.
“You know, $100 an acre is not a ton of money, but it’s another incentive to help producers,” he said. “It’s such a complex problem where you got this huge financial incentive to drain.”
Lane Mountney said regulations just need to be enforced.
“It’s almost too late,” he said. “They should have been out there checking stuff before we got this point.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2023.
Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press
“With success comes challenge.” Premier Smith to Alberta Municipalities
Premier Danielle Smith delivered a keynote address at the 2023 Alberta Municipalities Convention in Edmonton.
Alberta says first steps to reform provincial health delivery system coming this fall
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks to the media in Calgary, Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. Smith says the first steps are coming this fall to reconfigure Alberta’s health delivery system – a plan the Opposition calls a recipe for more chaos from a government fresh off turning lab testing into a debacle. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
By Dean Bennett in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Premier Danielle Smith says the first steps are coming this fall to reconfigure Alberta’s health delivery system — a plan the Opposition calls a recipe for more chaos from a government fresh off turning lab testing into a debacle.
“We will not delay,” Smith told mayors, councillors and other local leaders at the Alberta Municipalities convention Friday.
She said Health Minister Adriana LaGrange is to present her proposal to Smith and cabinet Wednesday on how to decentralize Alberta Health Services.
“If we get the cabinet approval and the caucus approval, we would be moving on some of that direction in the fall so that we are prepared for the new budget cycle in February.”
Smith has directed LaGrange to revamp the structure of Alberta Health Services, better known as AHS, saying it needs to be more responsive to regional needs and focus more on direct hospital care.
She has said LaGrange will look at whether AHS still needs to be in charge of non-acute functions such as midwifery, primary care staffing and continuing care.
Alberta finished centralizing its health system 15 years ago to create AHS.
Smith has made AHS reform the centrepiece of her leadership.
Last year, she fired the governing board of AHS and replaced it with a single administrator. She blamed the agency for failing to step up during the COVID-19 pandemic as hospitals came close to being overrun with patients.
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Smith’s plan is only going to make things worse, particularly given the province abandoned last month its attempt to fully privatize community lab services after the changes resulted in long waits for tests in Calgary and southern Alberta.
“People all across this province are struggling to get access to lab (testing) now because of the dysfunction of this UCP (government),” Notley told reporters after her speech to Alberta Municipalities delegates.
“Overlaying more disorganization on top of that is a recipe for further undermining our health care and our public health care.
“There is not a single solitary thing that this UCP government has done under (former premier) Jason Kenney’s leadership or Danielle Smith’s leadership that has made our health care better.”
Alberta Municipalities represents and speaks for villages, towns and cities that make up about 85 per cent of the province’s population.
Wetaskiwin Mayor Tyler Gandam, the newly elected president of Alberta Municipalities, said they’re hoping for changes and improvements to fix doctor shortages and emergency rooms forced to limit their operating hours.
“I was speaking with members of council from Ponoka and hearing that their emergency room had been shut down nearly 20 times this year so far,” Gandam told reporters.
“The last thing that a person should be worrying about is whether or not the emergency room is going to be open or an ambulance is going to able to respond to their call when they need it.”
The convention focused mainly on calls for more funding from the province.
On Thursday, delegates voted 98 per cent on a motion calling on the province to roll back years of municipal funding cuts on infrastructure.
The association says the province has cut both per capita spending and the percentage of total budget spending for years, resulting in about $1.3 billion less investment in community infrastructure per year that needs to be returned, particularly as the province continues to attract thousands more newcomers a year.
Smith said she will look at ways to get more money to municipalities to help bring property taxes down along with more one-time funding from recent budget surpluses to help accelerate capital projects.
“’I’ve watched it happen many times that we’re very generous (and) increase the funding when times are good, and then when times turn the other way, we ask you to take a pretty big haircut, and that puts a lot of extra pressure on you,” Smith told the delegates.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2023.
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