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Public Voices and Stronger Governance will help Manitoba Adapt

ACT Water author Bob Sandford’s most recent stop on the FLOW cross-Canada tour was in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Presenters at the standing room-only forum discussed three main hydrological impacts at length: infrastructure and water quality; groundwater and contamination; and climate impacts, which are multiplying both these risks. Observations from both hydrologists and climatologists at the presentations were insightful, noting that the region may have crossed an invisible threshold into a new hydro-climatic state that is already causing losses of current stability.

Flooding in the southern part of province, along with eutrophication of Lake Winnipeg, was an important topic in the general discussion. Flooding has been particularly egregious of late – damages have exceeded $700 million this year alone.

Participants concluded that Manitoba is the first province in Canada to face permanent hydrological change as a result of combined land use and climate effects, highlighting the complex linkages between the two. Manitobans also expressed concerns about how these hydrological impacts are going to affect them and who will pay the costs of managing them.

Despite these challenges, the outcomes of the forum convinced Bob that Manitoba has tremendous opportunity. One of Canada’s first and only provinces to establish a Ministry of Water Stewardship, it is currently developing a pro-active provincial water strategy. Implementing this strategy will provide an effective foundation on which to build a response to the aforementioned challenges.

In addition, the recent provincial election has provided a fresh opportunity for the province to move forward with a full policy reform of water management.

There was general consensus from participants that a national water strategy should be considered a vital element of current policy reform. Bob received the message that the public are frustrated about problems that they cannot resolve themselves, and the larger issues causing these problems are not perceived to be getting the attention they deserve. It seems clear that a far greater, unified public voice, one that will demand and support change and broader governance approaches that will allow meaningful reforms to be undertaken, is required to elevate these issues high enough on the political agenda to result in action.

It was heartening for people at the presentations to learn how the Northwest Territories (NWT) are overcoming the obstacles of tight resources and jurisdictional fragmentation that are earning a reputation for making action so difficult. Many agreed that there was a great deal that could be learned from the (NWT) example and that southern jurisdictions should support the NWT in their effort to achieve sustainability for water.

The most positive message that emanated from Bob’s Manitoba stop was that senior government officials that he spoke with are genuinely aware and concerned about the seriousness of the problem and want to address it. What he learned is that there is hope, and that change can happen.

Bob’s next stop on the tour is Toronto, Ontario on Monday October 24th. He will be in Waterloo, ON on Tuesday October 25th.

Robert W. Sandford, EPCOR Chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative in support of United Nations “Water for Life” Decade, and author of ACT’s Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance reports, is touring Canada speaking about water governance policy. Tim Shah, ACT PICS Water intern is reporting on Robert’s progress in this blog.

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