March 15, 2004

New Manitoba Water Protection Act will protect source water, establish planning authorities, stewardship fund

Manitoba's proposed Water Protection Act, introduced on March 4 by Water Stewardship Minister Steve Ashton, will protect water at the source, setting out water quality standards, objectives and guidelines and uniting under one act a number of the government's water protection initiatives, such as restrictions on on-site sewage disposal. The new legislation is intended to complement the province's 2002 Drinking Water Safety Act, thus providing source-to-tap protection.

"This legislation - the first of its kind in Canada - reinforces the importance of water in helping to maintain our quality of life and highlights the responsibility of all Manitobans in protecting it for future generations," Ashton said.

The Water Protection Act would enshrine water quality standards, objectives and guidelines into legislation and allow decisions made under the Environment Act to be consistent with these standards. The first standard to be introduced under the act would relate to the treatment of municipal waste.

The act also provides for the establishment of water quality management zones. Designating areas of land as water quality management zones would enable certain activities to be prohibited in those zones and would allow the legislating of nutrient management zones and levels of nutrients from all sources applied to the land in those zones.

Watershed planning authorities, whose designation would also be enabled by the legislation, would be responsible for developing watershed management plans. Municipal councils would be required to consider water management plans and water management zones in making planning and development decisions.

An additional objective of the act is to protect Manitoba from foreign biota and reaffirm provincial support for the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty addressing transboundary water issues between Canada and the U.S. It also strengthens Manitoba's opposition to the proposed Devils Lake Outlet project in North Dakota.

The Water Protection Act would further authorize the government to:

*limit certain activities that deteriorate water quality;

*permit the declaration of a serious water shortage in the event of drought;

*introduce whistleblower protection;

*establish a new Water Stewardship Fund to support water projects and research; and

*create a new Water Council to advise government.

The Water Stewardship Fund would provide grants and help to lever funding from other sources to support research, projects and activities that further the purposes of the act, and to assist the implementation of watershed management plans and water conservation programs.

The Water Council would:

*advise and make recommendations on water-related matters referred to it by the Minister;

*co-ordinate the activities of other water-related advisory boards, such as the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board; and

*monitor watershed planning in the province being undertaken by watershed planning authorities.

The Council would be an important consultative mechanism on provincewide issues. Consultation would also be required in the development of local watershed management plans and regulatory measures under the act.

The legislation provides for tougher fines and penalties consistent with the Drinking Water Safety Act and the Environment Act. It also includes amendments to other acts, such as the Water Rights Act to require the consideration, establishment and application of in-stream flow and lake reserves to protect the aquatic ecosystem and the Ground Water and Water Well Act to control the construction and decommissioning of groundwater wells and provide for the certification of well drillers.

Other sections of the legislation are aimed at promoting water conservation. Ashton noted that Canadians are the world's second highest per capita consumers of water, at a rate of about 343 litres a day per person, and Manitobans are among Canada's leading per capita users. Winnipeg residents alone consume just over 400 litres per person per day. "Clearly, all Manitobans can do more to conserve water and this legislation provides us with the tool to promote conservation efforts in the province," he said.

Floodway Authority Act

A second piece of legislation, introduced by Ashton last week, would create a new provincial agency to manage the expansion and maintenance of the Red River Floodway. The proposed Floodway Authority Act sets out the roles and responsibilities of the independent body.

"This historic piece of legislation will establish a separate, independent and accountable authority to complete the expansion of the Red River Floodway on behalf of Manitoba residents," said Ernie Gilroy, CEO of the interim Manitoba Floodway Expansion Authority. "By establishing a new authority to manage this project on a full-time basis, the Manitoba government is sending a signal that increased flood protection is top priority."

Ashton noted that "without the Red River Floodway, damage to the city during the 1997 Flood of the Century could have reached $6 billion. This legislation will help to ensure that Manitoba is better prepared for future flood events."

As agent for the Manitoba government, the floodway authority would own the floodway's physical assets and be responsible for its expansion and maintenance. Operational authority would remain with Manitoba Water Stewardship.

"The floodway authority would oversee this monumental task and ensure the correct planning, design and construction procedures are followed," said Ashton, adding that "there is much work to be done in the planning and preparation phase before the first scoop of earth is moved and this will be a very public process."

The expansion of the Red River Floodway is one of the largest infrastructure projects in Manitoba's history, with a projected cost of approximately $658 million over a six-year period. It will be designed to protect residents from an 1826-level flood - the largest in the province's history - and will create thousands of jobs

In addition to managing the project, the floodway authority will be responsible for:

*leading the public consultation process associated with project design and environmental licensing;

* promoting environmental stewardship;

* maximizing economic and recreational opportunities associated with the expansion; and

* developing labour training and research partnerships.

To date, Canada and Manitoba have committed funding totalling $240 million. In December 2003, the two governments signed an agreement for the first phase of the project, and further agreements are expected for its completion..

The interim Manitoba Floodway Expansion Authority was created in October 2003 to start the expansion process, including funding arrangements with the federal government. The new legislation would legally terminate the interim authority, assigning its responsibilities to the new floodway authority. The authority's operations would be overseen by a government-appointed board of directors. The new agency will be announcing its plans for the next phase of public information sessions in the near future.

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