June 27, 2005

Clean Environment Commission recommends licences for floodway expansion project

Manitoba's Clean Environment Commission has recommended that licences under the provincial Environment Act be issued to Manitoba Floodway Authority (MFA) for the expansion and maintenance of the Red River floodway and to Manitoba Water Stewardship for operation of the floodway. A report from the Commission, following up on public hearings held earlier this year, specifies conditions to be attached to the licences.

In releasing the report, Conservation Minister Stan Struthers said, "The CEC recommendations will be considered as part of the provincial environmental impact assessment and Environment Act licensing decisions regarding trhe planned expansion project."

In his submission letter, Commission chair Terry Sargeant pointed out that there was very little outright opposition to the proposal. The general support for, and recognition of, the need for additional flood protection for Winnipeg was tempered by

the need to address legitimate concerns about the project prior to construction.

Chief among these are the potential for flooding of homes and property outside the area protected by the floodway, and contamination of groundwater aquifers providing drinking water supplies to rural municipalities. (Construction of the original floodway in the 1960s did, in fact, cut into one of those aquifers, resulting in a continuing loss of high-quality groundwater. It also represents a potential pathway between contaminated river water and potable water, notes the report.)

Conditions which the Commission recommends be attached to the MFA and Manitoba Water Stewardship licences relate to operating rules, groundwater quality and quantity, the safety of the floodway inlet control structure, and recreational uses of the floodway right-of-way.

With regard to groundwater, the Commission recommends that the MDA establish water quantity and quality baselines; develop a comprehensive, continuing program for groundwater monitoring; ensure that there is no increase in groundwater leakage into the floodway; carry out a detailed floodway-related health risk assessment; and set up procedures and protocols for dealing with adverse water quantity and quality effects throughout all phases of floodway expansion construction and operation. Plans for all of these measures should be subject to peer review, says the report.

The Commission further recommends the creation of an arm's-length appeal body to adjudicate claims relating to groundwater issues, and calls for the publication of an annual report on floodway water quality.

The report may be viewed on the Clean Environment Commission Web site, www.cecmanitoba.ca.

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