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Upper Spirit Creek Watershed Drainage Pilot Project

On September 1, 2015 the Minister responsible for the Water Security Agency (WSA), Herb Cox, announced new drainage regulations in Saskatchewan. The new regulations are the first phase of an agricultural water management strategy that recognizes the benefits of drainage and the importance of mitigating negative impacts.

The key changes in the new regulations are:

  • ensuring that impacts related to flooding, water quality and habitat loss are addressed as part of the drainage works approval process (as shown in the photo, the negative  impacts of drainage can be overlooked by producers)
  • allowing landowner agreements as evidence of land control (rather than easements)
  • flow control structures required in high risk drainage basins
  • culvert, weir, or other structures that will slow the flow of water as it leaves a producer’s quarter
  • simplifying and streamlining the application approval process
  • no longer exempting works constructed before 1981 from requiring an approval (no “grandfather clause”)
  • enabling the use of “qualified persons” in the design of higher risk drainage works
  • dead storage, in some cases landowners may be required to retain a portion of drained    water

The new regulations are the first step in a phased-in approach to bring all drainage in the province into compliance over the next 10 years. These changes facilitate the start of the overall approach to the agricultural water management strategy.

The WSA is beginning to phase in these rules through on the ground application in two pilot project areas. One of the pilot areas is in the Upper Spirit Creek basin where the AWSA is acting as the qualified persons to be the  facilitators  between the WSA and producers.

Given the large area of land located within the pilot, we are unable to reach each producer at once. We have begun meeting with producers in smaller drainage basin networks just North-East of Rama. There are 4 smaller networks we have begun with. Network 17 has 9 quarters, Network 18 has 10 quarters, Network 19 has 12 quarters (will likely be expanded), and Network 20 has 10 quarters involved in the applications. 

We have been meeting with producers one on one to discuss the new regulations and explain changes from the previous approval process. Once we have worked through the details of the regulations we provide the producer with a site plan which outlines any wetlands (existing or drained), drainage works, and the acres of water in total that have or will be drained. We then communicate back and forth to ensure the site plans provided are an accurate representation of the current state of their land. We have met one on one with approximately 20 producers to date.

Once the site plans have been confirmed by the producer we are able to proceed with a joint application. WSA would like to see neighbours work together by applying for a joint application instead of individual applications  within a network. The advantage of the joint application is that the land control is locked in regardless of any name changes on the titles of land included in the approval. This involves working with the producer starting “at the top of the hill” to the producer at the bottom of the drainage basin, where WSA has defined the adequate outlet. The alternative is an individual application with separate land control agreements. The drawback to individual agreements is that they are no longer valid if any name on title changes. The individual applicants would then need to re-apply for approval.

In order to help expedite this joint application process we held a group meeting with producers in the same networks on November 2, 2015. It was an informative meeting with AWSA and WSA staff who were available to answer questions producers had after our initial meetings. We held another joint meeting on December 3, 2015 in Rama. At this meeting we had the applications drafted, as well as approvals drafted, so producers knew what they would be signing and what the result of the application would be.

Our next steps are to finalize the applications within our current networks and get final approvals issued from WSA.