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Beneficial Management Practices in Saskatchewan

Reed Langen


How beneficial management practices are changing Saskatchewan?


If the common phrase, “Don’t shit where you eat” were taken literally then it would be an example of a beneficial management practice (BMP). The point of that phrase is: keep things separate that are vitally important to remain separated, and that is the jist of what beneficial management practices are trying to accomplish. 


Here is a tiny list of things, all related to water, that BMPs in Saskatchewan try to separate: E.coli and water, your water on my land, cow pies in drinking water, algae blooms and water, sewage and drinking water, oil and water. Abandoned water wells, unlicensed drainage, nutrient overloading and runoff are common enough in Saskatchewan that they have a negative impact on groundwater, lakes, reservoirs and wetlands. 

What are beneficial management practices?

In theory, beneficial management practices are alternative management practices that have been tested and assessed as solutions to ensure, for example, good water quality and quantity.  For water security reasons, their purpose is to ensure that daily work on the farm, ranch or any other land does not accumulate for the future into poor water quality for an entire watershed. Obvious contamination is one thing, but BMPs focus on the cumulative effects of normal, daily practice so that when extreme events occur, weather or otherwise, water quality and quantity won’t be compromised. 


However, there are so many BMPs just in agriculture alone that are not considered at the provincial level, how do we claim a practice as beneficial? Part of our research is assessing whether or not a provincially designated BMP is working. We assess the governance structure, natural and financial value, as well as the impact the BMP might be having on water quality. Then we compare the BMP to another practice to understand if one is more beneficial than the other. 

The contrasting narratives of beneficial management practices

Not everyone agrees over beneficial management practices. There are usually compromises between technological, economic and institutional considerations. Wetland drainage is a good example of the compromise between neighbours, the economy and the environment. Drainage is claimed to be good for profit, and poor for biodiversity, groundwater quality and flooding. Retaining wetlands is not common practice because of the loss of profit, and the Saskatchewan government does not endorse retention as a BMP through financial compensation. The BMP that the Ministry of Ag designates is the coordination of drainage channels between farmers to form networks so farmers and ranchers are not flooding each other. The BMP takes into consideration the technological, economic, institutional and environmental aspects but it ultimately prioritizes one consideration over another. 

Beneficial management practices attempt to shift the status quo in the direction that the problem is understood as a problem. Assessing BMPs is a continuous and never-ending process and should be done periodically to ensure that the chosen practice is still the BMP.

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