by Jack Dubois
The Manitoba government introduced a new Bill in November 2017 titled the Sustainable Watersheds Act. Within the legislation there is provision for extended protection of certain classes of wetland. The government has shown sound leadership in recognizing the importance of wetlands on the prairies and all the benefits they provide. Keeping water on the landscape in the natural ponds and marshes reduces downstream flooding and provides rich habitat for a diverse assemblage of species including many mammals and amphibians, birds and waterfowl, and endangered species such as the Least Bittern. Wetlands are biologically diverse hotspots on a primarily agricultural landscape in southern Manitoba. With losses of upwards of 70% of wetlands since the breaking of the prairies, on-going protection is essential to maintain what is left and promote restoration to ensure the future benefits of these very significant habitats.
Photo: Least Bittern by Christian Artuso
Approximately 3200 acres of wetlands are lost to agricultural drainage, suburban and infrastructure development each year. The new legislation will help reduce these losses and where they do occur will ensure replacement by developers and landowners under a no net loss of wetlands approach to wetland conservation. This means that where a landowner wishes to drain or alter a protected class of wetlands they will be required to replace the wetland at a pre-determined ratio, or compensate for the loss based on replacing the wetland environmental and social values. This is a fundamental advancement in wetland conservation and will see important classes of wetlands formally protected in legislation for the first time in Manitoba.
Photo: Delta Marsh by Tim Poole
As the Bill passes through the legislative process there will be a number of steps where people can express their opinions and support. Subsequent to second reading there will be a standing committee established to hear public input. Those wishing to appear before the committee or provide written input should register with the Manitoba Committees Office at (204) 945-3636. The office will then contact individuals to let them know when the committee will convene.
While the new Sustainable Watersheds Act is a significant step forward, the success of it will rest with effective regulations to implement the content of the Act. To that end the Manitoba government is currently drafting regulations that will spell out the process for obtaining approvals for drainage and water management works. This is where rubber meets the road. Getting these regulations right will determine how effective the legislation will be in accomplishing the wetland conservation objectives. The public again will be asked to review and comment on the new regulations through a consultation process. This provides another opportunity to participate in a legislative process that will ultimately make for effective wetland protection and conservation.