The Manitoba government recently announced a new water management strategy that will guide provincial policy.
The strategy, it said, will protect the province’s water resources and ecosystems while sustainably growing the economy and Manitoba communities.
The government’s game plan aspires to “make every drop count.”
“The focus needs to shift from supply-side management solutions to approaches that reduce how much water we use.”
The first-of-its-kind since 2003, the strategy was announced by Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson and Environment, Climate and Parks Minister Jeff Wharton at a photo-op at FortWhyte Alive, a large environmental, education and recreation centre in southwest Winnipeg that is well known to city residents.
The plan sets out a broad analysis of current and future demands on water resources and infrastructure and describes them in 47 strategic objectives and 11 priority areas.
Some of the priority areas include: Maximizing water resource potential through conservation and efficient water use; protecting biodiversity and aquatic ecosystem health; improving the co-ordination of water management and governance of watersheds, basins and aquifers; and enhancing the engagement and participation of Manitobans in water stewardship.
To help develop its approach, the government received input from the province’s expert advisory council, as well as from 35 stakeholders and private citizens.
Stefanson said the strategy will balance the province’s environmental, social and economic needs and ensure water security for future generations.
It will guarantee there will be enough water to sustain Manitoba’s population and industrial growth.
Manitoba’s collective water needs are changing as climate change and extreme weather affect how much water is available, Stefanson said.
According to the strategy, “Although Manitoba as a whole has an abundance of high-quality surface water and groundwater supplies, several water sources in southern Manitoba are fully or near-fully allocated.
“In these regions of water scarcity, the potential for economic development and community growth have become limited, particularly in the potato irrigation and agricultural processing sectors, which are major contributors to Manitoba’s economy.”
Manitoba’s population of 1.4 million in 2022 is expected to grow by about 360,000 people in 20 years, an increase of more than 25 per cent.
Water-intensive activities, such as agriculture, will also increase at the same time.
Economic growth in the province is concentrated in the Winnipeg area and there is a growing number of suburbs spreading outward from the city. In addition, there are many agribusinesses in southern Manitoba.
Bedroom communities and businesses need land, which affects drainage and water use.
In the spring there is frequent flooding which leads to road and highway closures.
The government’s new water management strategy has been received positively by provincial interest groups.
Speaking on behalf of Manitoba farmers, Keystone Agricultural Producers’ general manager Brenna Mahoney said the strategy emphasizes water conservation, downstream impacts and climate resiliency, all of which are important to farmers.
“We believe the province has developed a water management strategy that is relevant, forward-thinking and addresses the majority of needs in agriculture, including strategic objectives to increase reliability and accessibility of water supplies for our sector,” said Mahoney.
“Many farm families in Manitoba have been working the same lands for generations and can provide their knowledge and expertise to ensure the action plan accurately reflects our terrain and environmental conditions.
“By having a cutting-edge water management strategy in our province, this will provide long-term certainty and predictability to put Manitoba farmers at a competitive advantage.”
The Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) was also upbeat.
“As water management affects all municipalities, AMM members overwhelmingly support maximizing water resources and addressing water infrastructure challenges and opportunities.
“The AMM understands that the province will begin consultations in December to help inform and operationalize the strategy through the development of an action plan.”
Stefanson said now that the strategy has been completed, the next step is for the province to work with industry and environmental representatives to start putting together an action plan. The plan will be worked on over the winter and is scheduled for release in spring 2023.
It will determine the short-term projects or programs the government needs to implement the strategy. It will be updated regularly.
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