The Water Security Agency (formerly the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority) repealed the existing Drainage Control Regulations last September, to be replaced by new regulations that will be phased in over the next 10 years. These are the regulations that apply to agricultural drainage, also known as “ditching.” We in this area are familiar with the practice, but possibly not all the rules that apply to it.
The old regulations were put in place in 1981 and have remained largely unchanged. Existing artificial drainage at the time was exempt from these rules but any new drainage works, with a few exceptions, were to go through an approval process outlined by the regulations.
It is no secret that not everyone has followed these rules. Illegal drainage has caused issues in many areas of the province, and current flooding issues around the province are thought to be partly the result of ditching. The new regulations are intended to help mitigate issues from draining agricultural land while still allowing farmers to remove unwanted water from their land.
Since 1981, farmers have been required to get a permit before drainage work is started. A plan had to be submitted to the WSA, showing the location of the proposed drainage ditch and any associated structures like dams, and the location of the drainage outlet; in addition, the plan had to show all public and private roads, railroads, buried utilities structures (like underground phone lines), other structures, drainage area boundaries, and existing drainage works that might be impacted by the new. Legal land descriptions and owners’ contact information for any land affected by the new drainage also had to be included. A public notice that the plan had been filed for approval had to be posted. Legal easements from the affected landowners had to be obtained.
Exemptions to the permit process included drainage works completed before 1981, work done to remove beaver dams or other obstructions to water flow, and works that remained entirely on the owners’ land to drain water also entirely on the owners’ land as long as the water was not drained off the owners’ land.
The new regulations will make the following changes: all drainage works, including those existing before 1981, will require a permit; written agreements between the landowners will be allowed to replace legal easements; design and construction will be required to reduce the risk of impact on flooding, wildlife habitat and water quality; control structures may be required; some wetland or storage area may be required to remain permanently; drainage planning and damage assessment are to be done by qualified persons; and complaints will move into the regulatory system.
Pre-1981 works that do not meet regulatory requirements will be closed. Also, if complaints are made about drainage works that are found not to have a permit, these must apply for a permit and if not approved, they must be closed.
These new regulations are the product of a consultation process between WSA and farmers, landowners and others impacted by drainage, started in 2013 and concluding in 2014. For more information about the new regulations, see the WSA website at sask.ca, or contact the head office of the WSA in Moose Jaw.
By Charlene Wirtz