August 1, 2005

Manitoba proposes water quality management zones

The Manitoba government has proposed a network of water quality management zones (WQMZ) for the province. Said to be the first of their kind in North America, these zones are an integral part of the Water Protection Act, given royal assent by the provincial legislature on June 16, 2005. It will come into force on proclamation.

WQMZ are a major feature of the act, whose purpose is to create a systematic framework for improved water management and protection in Manitoba. The zones will delineate areas in which water systems are protected from excessive runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus. This will assist in preventing the over-application of nutrients to the landscape.

A discussion paper released on July 20 by Water Stewardship Minister Steve Ashton will, he said, "serve as a framework for governing the water quality management zones." A WQMZ for nutrients regulation would divide Manitoba's landscape into four zones, determined by agricultural or productive capability and related to environmental factors that can influence runoff or leaching of nutrients from land to water.

These factors include climate, moisture limitations, land slope, topography, soil characteristics, distance to groundwater, erosion potential and crop yield potential. A series of maps, included in the discussion paper, illustrates the proposed zones in each of Manitoba's rural municipalities. Zone 1 would consist of the most highly productive lands, with Zones 2 through 4 setting out areas of declining productivity.

The regulation would also define buffer setback distances from water systems, including wells and sinkholes; in such areas, application of nutrients would be limited.

The regulation would set limits for both nitrogen and phosphorus, with separate regulatory clauses to be developed for each of the major sources of nutrients applied to land, e.g. livestock manure, municipal wastewater sludge, organic and inorganic fertilizers, and siting of municipal wastewater lagoons, manure storage facilities and septic fields.

Studies have shown that nutrients have increased by about 10% in Lake Winnipeg since the early 1970s. "The gradual but steady increase in nitrogen and phosphorus contributions to water systems over the past several decades is probably one of the greatest water quality challenges facing not only Manitoba but also other jurisdictions in Canada, the United States and Europe," Ashton said. "Through the Water Protection Act and initiatives like WQMZ, we hope to reduce the loading of nutrients to our lakes and rivers and bring back Lake Winnipeg to levels that existed before 1970."

Manitoba's Water Protection Act is companion legislation to the Drinking Water Safety Act passed in 2002. Where the latter legislation focused on water at the tap, the new act addresses water protection at the source, whether or not it is used for drinking water, to recognize the importance of preserving the ecological integrity of these source waters.

In addition to providing for the establishment of water quality management zones, the Water Protection Act: creates watershed planning authorities to develop management plans by watershed; establishes the Manitoba Water Council; sets up a Water Stewardship Fund; and amends and updates existing water-related legislation.

Written comments on the discussion paper may be submitted until September 30, 2005. Revisions based on the feedback received will be incorporated into a second draft, which will be the subject of a second review phase.

The discussion paper may be requested from Manitoba Water Stewardship, 123 Main St, Suite 160, Winnipeg R3C 1A5, 204/945-7100, or downloaded from Manitoba Water Stewardship's Web site, www.gov.mb.ca/waterstewardship. Comments should be directed to Dwight Willamson at Manitoba Water Stewardship at the above address, E-mail dwilliamso@gov.mb.ca.

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