Agriculture Water Management Capacity Building to Achieve Climate Resilience

In 2019, the Water Security Agency (WSA), in partnership with the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative (PARC) and other stakeholders, developed two educational programs to assist the agriculture industry to adapt their water management in response to the recurring flooding events in eastern Saskatchewan. The WSA identified the need for producers to adopt new water management strategies after identifying poor drainage as a cause for flooding events. Climate models indicate that Saskatchewan producers will face warmer, wetter winters and longer, warmer summers, which poses a threat to crop yields. Saskatchewan prairie producers rely heavily on precipitation and snow melt as a water source. Projected climate data gathered by PARC for Yorkton show the need to effectively manage water sources as precipitation variability is expected to increase. Through two education programs, WSA aims to help producers maximise yields by increasing their capacity to withstand year to year variability. AgH2Onward is a workshop that helps producers make their operations more resilient by introducing them to innovative agricultural water management solutions. The Qualified Persons (QPs) training ensures QPs have the knowledge and tools to help agricultural producers better integrate climate change considerations into their water management plans. This project was supported by Natural Resources Canada’s Building Regional Adaptation Capacity and Expertise (BRACE) Program.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Between 1997 and 2011 there were seven years where more than a million acres of cropland flooded in eastern Saskatchewan. Poor drainage and rainfall variability left many producers struggling with water management, affecting both soil health and crop production. In 2011, disaster assistance program payments reached $1.3 billion reflecting the severity of the impacts for producers. Over the last decade as part of Saskatchewan’s 10-year Growth Plan, agricultural production has increased to include an additional 85,000 acres of farmland without a framework on how to effectively manage water resources. WSA recognized a need to support producers by enhancing their capacity to prepare for future climate variability. Using Ouranos and Pacific Climate Futures, Environment and Climate Change Canada, NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, Prairie Climate Centre’s Climate Atlas of Canada’s, Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium, and Climate Data Canada, PARC gathered the historical trends, forecast data, and climate models, to communicate climate risks to the WSA, producers, and QPs. When comparing the temperature and precipitation changes in western Canada for the periods of 1971-2000 to the projected changes in 2041-2069, PARC found that Saskatchewan producers will be dealing with warmer and wetter winters and longer, warmer summers with extreme variability and weather events. WSA recognized that varying precipitation paired with the low compliance rates for The Water Security Agency Act would compound water quantity and quality issues, due to erosion, sedimentation, accumulation of dissolved agents, collection of nutrients leading to algae blooms, and overwhelming of a terminal basin. Furthermore, wildlife habitat would also be impacted through the unregulated conversion of wetlands to croplands, channelization of streams, and the alteration in hydrology.

Identifying Actions

In 1981, Saskatchewan’s Drainage Control Act was passed, requiring any drainage work completed thereafter be submitted to WSA for drainage plan approval. However, between 1981 and 2014, drainage compliance rates remained below 5%. In response to low compliance rates and recurring flooding events, in 2015 The Water Security Agency Act and Regulations were implemented and the Agricultural Water Management Strategy was introduced as the new drainage regulations to promote responsible drainage while supporting resilient watersheds and thriving communities. The Strategy required all drainage works be submitted for approval to the WSA with considerations for reducing impacts and risks related to climate change and encourage the use of qualified persons in assisting with the compliance application to preserve water quantity, water quality, and wildlife habitats. To support producers in the adoption of the strategy and address poor water management during times of precipitation variability, the WSA along with other stakeholders, developed the AgH2Onwards workshop for producers and the Qualified Persons training for QPs. The Ag2H2Onwards workshop is open for anyone to take, but it is geared towards agricultural producers, RMs, Conservation and Development Area Authorities, Water Association Boards, and people who want to get their drainage works approved. The QP training educates professionals on how to design and build resilient drainage projects with considerations of climate change impacts, an emphasis on the need to drain to an adequate outlet, and with attention to reducing downstream impacts.

Implementation

Ag2Onwards was created to support producers in making agricultural drainage systems more resilient to extreme or variable weather events such as drought or flooding. Ag2Onward is a free two-day online workshop for producers consisting of five modules covering a range of topics including agricultural water management, new drainage regulations, adoption to water variability, climate change effects on agriculture, impacts of drainage, the process of applying for drainage approval, and how QPs can assist. The QP training is designed for professionals who work with producers and are a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists, or the Technology Professionals Saskatchewan. The introductory QP Training course consists of five three-hour virtual workshops. It provides QPs with the knowledge and tools to help agricultural producers better incorporate climate change considerations into agricultural water management decision making, and to help producers adapt to the impacts of climate change. A QP is a drainage expert recognized by the WSA who assists with the preparation of a drainage application or report. QP’s understand WSA’s regulatory requirements and work with WSA staff to assist producers with acquiring drainage approvals to ensure all drainage works drain to a point of adequate outlet. QPs are hired by producers to assist in the application process and advise on the best agricultural water management practices.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

The use of QPs in drainage projects is measured through the number of applications submitted. Currently 40% of projects use a QP. reflecting the effectiveness of the Agricultural Water management strategy and the WSA initiatives. Due to the growing uptake of the QP training, its development by WSA has evolved into a partnership with Southeastern College to help with the revision of training materials and the delivery of the QP training workshops.

Next Steps

Initially funded by NRCan’s Building Regional Adaptation Capacity and Expertise Program (BRACE), QP training and AGH2Onwards will continue to be offered for free by the WSA. The WSA will also continue to update their training content to support development in watershed planning.

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