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Beneficial Management Practices for Agricultural Water Management

By Hillary Luchinski, BSA, AAg, Agri-Environmental Specialist, Humboldt

September 2021
Riparian area in a pasture
Riparian area in a pasture.

Good water management and proper design are not only important because of environmental impacts, but also because water has the potential to have far-reaching social and economic impacts. Water is a natural resource that is used by everyone and good management upstream matters.

In September 2015, the Water Security Agency (WSA) began implementing the Agricultural Water Management Strategy. Through this program, WSA and qualified persons work with Saskatchewan producers and industry stakeholders to bring existing, unapproved drainage into compliance with current regulations and legislation that supports responsible agricultural water management. Typically, this is done using network drainage approvals that ensure land control and require the implementation of erosion and flow control to mitigate downstream impacts.

Some examples of practices to consider implementing on your operation to mitigate downstream impacts include:

  • Retaining a portion of runoff water, either permanently in a wetland or temporarily as a way to manage water flow during peak runoff; and
  • Leaving vegetative buffers along constructed drainage works as well as natural water features, like wetlands or streams.

These practices can be used on farms that have both drainage and wetlands. Drainage increases productivity and provides the environmental benefit of greater efficiency of fuel and fertilizer use.  Wetlands and their associated riparian areas provide many economic and social benefits and are crucial components of the landscape’s ability to function. Wetlands, whether temporary or permanent, are a key piece of the water cycle and are important for groundwater recharge as well as buffering against severe weather conditions, such as drought or flooding. Adequate groundwater keeps our domestic drinking water sources from going dry. Wetlands also act as reservoirs to store floodwater and provide a water source during droughts. They are a key part of nutrient cycles, playing a large role in carbon sequestration and nitrogen cycling.

Healthy riparian areas also play important ecological roles, such as filtering contaminants from overland runoff and nutrient cycling. Leaving a vegetative buffer of at least 30 metres around natural water features, as well as steep or deep ditches, benefits water quality and helps protect those areas from erosion. The deep, binding root mass of riparian areas helps naturally armour slopes from erosion, limiting the sediment that is transported downstream and preventing you from having to do costly repair work. The water environment and surrounding riparian areas also provide important habitat for Saskatchewan wildlife, including pollinators.

Through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership’s Farm Stewardship Program, producers looking to work with their regional WSA office to bring existing, unapproved agricultural drainage into compliance under the Agricultural Water Management Program may be eligible for funding.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to get your works approved, get in touch with your local WSA regional office, which can be found by visiting the Water Security Agency website. For more information on the Farm Stewardship Program, contact the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377 to be put in touch with your nearest agri-environmental specialist.

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