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CD's greeted by a "done deal" at local meeting

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Dauphin was the 13th stop in a 14-meeting schedule for the Modernizing Manitoba’s Conservation Districts program, Oct. 12.
While Intermountain Conservation District (IMCD) and Turtle River Watershed Conservation District (TRWCD), plus the surrounding rural municipalities had not received a response from the province in regards to their opposition to a proposed merger, the 40 people attending the meeting were greeted with a map of future watershed boundaries on each table at the curling rink lounge in Credit Union Place.
Rob Olson, deputy-minister of Sustainable Development was well aware of the displeasure expressed by those attending.
“"Change is hard. This is a big change, but it’s a change that’s been talked about for many, many years,” he said.
The concept of moving to a watershed-based management plan, Olson said, is necessary, pointing out most of his career has been spent in wetland conservation.
“So my belief is that 20, 30, 40 years from now we will look back at this moment as a very big moment that changed the course of water management in Manitoba,” he said.
“Water flows down hills, the watersheds are what they are and we’re not changing those. So you’ve got to manage the water on that basis.”
That maybe the easy part, Olson said, as people live in those watersheds and it is about people embracing the idea, then working together to improve it.
Water management has to improve in Manitoba, he noted, and part of that is having synchronized, co-ordinated water management actions based on the watershed basis.
“You can’t be doing watershed work at the upper end of the watershed, having it affect people downstream and not have that plan for it co-ordinated,” Olson said.
“Funding is tight for everybody now, so we don’t have time or money to have unco-ordinated water management anymore. It’s got to be thoughtful and strategic.”
At all the meetings Olson has attended, people have generally accepted the concept water must be managed based on where it flows.
After that, he said, they want details on issues such as managing a different way of operation, travel and meeting cost.
The merger of IMCD and TRWCD is challenging, Olson said, because TRWCD is an infrastructure district and IMCD is not.
“They’re going to have a collective board but we’re willing to work with them to maintain some autonomy, because they have differences and that has to be accounted for and dealt with. That part I think we can do,” he said.
“The harder question is what are we doing about infrastructure.”
The decision about infrastructure has not been made, Olson said, noting government is looking at the issue and has sent signals to Sustainable Development they are open to discuss it.
“Funding is tight and government is looking to balance the budget. So there is not lots of extra dollars around for everybody to do all the projects they want to do. But we could be more efficient. It feels like there’s opportunities for efficiencies in how we operate and I think government is open to having that conversation with these folks,” he said.
At the meeting it was announced existing base grants for each conservation district (CD) would not change.
The idea is to maintain base grant funding, Olson explained, then add funding opportunities, such as the Conservation Trust, where CDs can create an overall proposal to address several water needs within the watershed.
The Conservation Trust is new money, he said, allowing CDs to get project money that was not previously available.
“We’re hoping that they’ll pivot from ‘we don’t like the change’ to, ‘we see the value in increasing the funding and doing this in a more co-ordinated way’,” Olson said.
The Conservation Trust Fund is not set aside specifically for conservation districts, he added, but when it was designed it was geared toward CDs, although any environmental group doing conservation work can apply.
When asked if administration would stay the same for each CD, Olson admitted it remains to be seen.
“We’re not changing their funding, they can maintain two, the funding is the same,” he said.
“Over time they may decide to have one, but that’s up to them. They have to see what works for them. Our side is, we have to give them that flexibility.”
If CDs are travelling more, Olson believes they are talking with each other and working together, which will result in a co-ordinated watershed plan.
“So to me, that’s money well spent,” he said.
The Modernizing Manitoba’s Conservation Districts program comes into effect, January 2020.

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M. A. Nyquist
REPORTER
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