Manitoba's Conservation Districts

Manitoba’s Conservation District Program is one of the most successful land and water conservation partnerships in Canada.  The proposed changes to modernize the program into the future Watershed District Program support Sustainable Development’s mandate to implement watershed-based planning for drainage and water resources. In 2017, the Manitoba government released a Watershed Policy Framework discussion document that proposed improvements to the drainage licensing system, development of Growing Outcomes in Watersheds (GROW), and modernization of the Conservation Districts Program.  Modernization of the Conservation Districts Program will include rebranding the program to reflect its watershed mandate by; aligning districts to watershed boundaries; facilitating partnerships with non-municipal entities; adding flexibility for municipal funding and appointments; modernizing funding models and reporting requirements and placing an emphasis on watershed outcomes; and enhancing watershed management plan development, coordination and implementation.

Manitoba consulted on two proposed watershed-based regulations, including the proposed Watershed Districts Regulation and the proposed Watershed Management Regulation to support modernization of The Conservation Districts Program. In June 2018, The Conservation Districts Act was amended by The Sustainable Watersheds Act. Upon proclamation, the Act will be renamed The Watershed Districts Act. Proclamation is targeted for January 2020. Regulatory changes are also required to support the Act amendments and program modernization prior to proclamation. Following extensive consultation with conservation districts and member municipalities, a proposed Watershed Districts Regulation and Watershed Management Regulation were prepared to implement The Watershed Districts Act and modernize the program.

Proposed Map of Future Watershed Districts

Proposed Map of Future Watershed Districts

Program Administration

The Watershed Planning & Programs Section administers and manages the Conservation Districts Program as defined by The Conservation Districts Act, and coordinates and supports Integrated Watershed Management Planning as outlined in The Water Protection Act

Conservation districts are formed as a partnership between the province and local municipalities to protect, restore and manage land and water resources on a watershed basis.  Conservation Districts are established under the authority of The Conservation Districts Act. Currently, there are 18 conservation districts in Manitoba, together they cover the majority of municipal Manitoba. Each district is charged with developing and implementing programming to improve watershed health, while four districts also have an added responsibility to maintain waterway infrastructure within their boundary.

Conservation districts can also be designated as a water planning authorities for watershed management planning in Manitoba. They provide leadership in both the development and implementation of watershed plans.  A watershed plan assists a district in planning long-term and short-term goals and identifying priority project to improve watershed health. Currently, there are twenty six integrated watershed management plans in various stages of completion.

Swan Lake Turtle Mountain Kelsey East Interlake West Interlake Alonsa Conservation District Intermountain Lake of the Prairies Turtle River Upper Assiniboine River Little Saskatchewan Whitemud Watershed Cooks Creek La Salle Redboine Mid Assiniboine River West Souris River Pembina Valley Turtle Mountain Seine-Rat River

Modernizing Manitoba's Conservation Districts Program

Modernizing Manitoba’s Conservation District Program.

The Manitoba government is taking steps to modernize Manitoba’s Conservation Districts Program, which will see the existing 18 conservation districts evolve to become 14 watershed districts on watershed-based boundaries. The reorganization of districts on watershed boundaries is an important step in moving towards a watershed-based approach to managing water in Manitoba. As water does not follow administrative or political boundaries, watersheds are considered the most appropriate unit to plan and manage water and activities on the land that impact water.

In August 2017, the Manitoba government released a series of consultation papers. One of these documents asked for feedback on our proposed approach to modernize the Conservation Districts Program. Consultation concluded in October 2017. In 2018, the Manitoba government worked with the districts and their member municipalities to delineate the future boundaries of watershed districts.

In June 2018, the Manitoba government passed The Sustainable Watersheds Act, which amends four pieces of legislation, including The Conservation Districts Act. Upon proclamation, The Conservation Districts Act will become The Watershed Districts Act. Amendments to the Act support a truly holistic and watershed-based approach to water management in Manitoba by:

  1. Realigning the boundaries of conservation districts to reflect watershed boundaries. This includes a name change from conservation districts to watershed districts.
  2. Enabling watershed districts to enter into agreements with non-municipal entities, including Indigenous communities, communities under the authority of Indigenous and Northern Relations, and industry. This supports a holistic and watershed-based approach to managing water and implementing watershed management plans.
  3. Adding flexibility for watershed district boards to appoint up to two non-municipal members-at-large to their boards, if the board wishes to do so.
  4. Providing watershed districts with options for using apportionment or total portioned land assessment to calculate levy contributions from member municipalities.
  5. Strengthening connections between watershed districts established under The Watershed Districts Act and watershed management plans developed under The Water Protection Act.
  6. Streamlining program administration to reduce red tape.

These program changes will come into effect upon proclamation of The Watershed Districts Act and associated regulations, which is targeted for early 2020.