Although a record 693 quarter sections of Saskatchewan agriculture lands were brought into drainage compliance in the 2017–18 fiscal year, Saskatchewan’s Provincial Auditor says there is significant work to do to bring unapproved drainage works into compliance.
In her 2018 Report – Volume 1, Chapter 12, Provincial Auditor Judy Ferguson reported that existing unapproved drainage works, particularly those located in areas at higher risk of flooding, can cause damage and lead to loss of wetlands. The audit found the Water Security Agency was not always following its revised approval processes, or completing all of the steps outlined in its new policies (many of which are not yet finalized).
In the Province of Saskatchewan, the WSA is responsible for regulating drainage. Since 2015, all drainage works (regardless of the year constructed) require, by law, the Agency’s approval—currently, the majority remain unapproved.
The WSA is in early stages of implementing a new strategy to encourage effective drainage and protect the environment that sets a new direction for the WSA. The strategy requires greater consideration of the downstream implications of drainage and water flows before approving drainage works, allows for greater coordination of landowners and encouragement of wetland preservation.
Under the strategy, the WSA is actively educating landowners about the new requirements and assisting them in applying for approval of new or existing unapproved drainage works. However, the audit found the approval processes to be inconsistent.
For example, over one-third of application approvals tested did not clearly document staff’s assessment of risks of the potential drainage works (e.g., downstream impacts). In another example, the Agency did not take timely enforcement action on an unapproved drainage work. In this case, six months after the WSA had ordered a landowner to rectify a drainage issue, staff had not yet set steps to reach compliance by the landowner.
Even though its draft policies placed priority on areas at higher risk of flooding, the WSA did not yet have a set timeframe to bring these lands into compliance or close them. It also did not yet have expected timeframes to resolve complaints about unapproved drainage works.
Saskatchewan has between 1.6 million and 2.4 million acres of land with unapproved drainage works.
Chapter 12 of the Auditor’s 2018 Report Volume 1 report can be downloaded from the auditor.sk.ca website.