Lessons Learned Okabena Conservation and Development Project
The purpose of this research is to gain a greater understanding of how communities develop and adopt best practices for sustainable water management through community case studies. This report will document Okabena C and D Drainage and Erosion Control Project which was initially an environmental sedimentation and water runoff project but eventually grew into creating a conservation and development (C&D) area that allowed producers and governmental agencies to more effectively collaborate in solving the water issue.
Detailed research for this case study started in September 2020 and consisted of reviews of agency reports, technical papers, legislation, news stories, and presentations. Phone call and email correspondence with main project leaders and government officials concluded three interviews that provided supplementary information. Qualitative evaluation of the interviews and literature are the basis for the conclusions and discussion in this report.
⁜ Okabena was the first C&D that was developed in Saskatchewan since 1970s and it informed and facilitated development of other C&Ds within the area.
⁜ The project was initiated in 2011 by Moose Jaw River Watershed Stewards (MJRWS) and was a successful collaboration between the MJRWS, producers within the C&D area, and Water Security Agency (WSA). The project was partially funded by the government and partially by levies on municipal taxes. Engineering firms were hired to design and construct the ditch drainage and the project was completed in 2013.
⁜ C&D projects embrace a drainage stewardship approach and through proper ditch construction with grassed waterways, sedimentation and nutrient loading into downstream waters is reduced. It takes more than ten years for the ditches to get vegetated, however, the results in 2016 also shown less sedimentation and producers have also expressed high satisfaction as the water has gotten drained off and they have had better crops.
⁜ Forming the C&D was a lengthy and complicated process. However, it provided legal stability and the coordination to assure maintenance on main waterways. Currently, there is a board governing and overseeing the Okabena C&D on an administration and operational budgets levied on the landowners. The board is responsible for the water infrastructure in the area and deals with any issues or concerns that may impact the quality of water in the Okabena C&D area. The board follows the Conservation and Development Act of Saskatchewan to maintain its integrity and may consult with WSA.
⁜ Project leaders within the producers and the governmental agencies were identified as the champions of the project to enhance collaboration between themselves. Project leaders within the producers demonstrated effective volunteerism and leadership to build a community of producers that worked together for the betterment and committed to their collective benefits.
The purpose of this research is to gain a greater understanding of how communities develop and adapt best practices for sustainable water management through community case studies. Several “success stories” of water management are being examined and documented from different regions across Saskatchewan. The case studies represent diverse aspects of water management - waste water, drinking water and flood management. Qualitative analysis of the case studies will inform how best practices are created and how they can be utilized in other regions.
This report documents Okabena C and D Drainage and Erosion Control Project, a best management practice which was initially a solution to water runoff to Moose Jaw River and environmental sedimentation that grew into creating a conservation and development (C&D) district/area for the producers to work collaboratively together and with the provincial government. The project covers 14,800 acres that drain from near Rouleau toward Moose Jaw. The project was an organized drainage project in Saskatchewan initiated in 2011 by Moose Jaw River Watershed Stewards (MJRWS) and 14 landowners within the area with support from several government agencies, and private contractors. Okabena project was initiated in 2011 and the project was completed in 2013. The total cost of the project was $900,000 and the government contributed $280,000 through a pilot project program with ongoing costs per acre for maintenance being levied on rural municipal taxes (Briere, 2016a).
Agricultural runoff that is high in sediments flows from the Regina Plains into the Moose Jaw River every spring (Drainage Stewardship Upper Souris Watershed Association, 2016). Individual farmers had cut ditches to drain water off their land which was causing uncontrolled volumes and velocities of water runoff. As all the producers within the basin were draining water from their land to the determent of the land to maximize their returns, they all had to take responsibility for the damage which resulted in erosion and sedimentation.
Erosion control was the initial reason for the project however it was swiftly concluded that developing a Conservation and Development area (C&D) would better support sustainability and provide producer control and governance over the water basin (Briere, 2016a). The Okabena C&D was the first C&D in the province built in thirty years.
The Moose Jaw River Watershed Stewards (MJRWS) found that some of the worst sediment deposition was between Rouleau and Drinkwater, and an effective adaptation was needed to control the sedimentation. Subsequently in 2011, MJRWS invited area producers to a meeting where they discussed water, flooding, ditches, water direction, loss of soil and the impact on the Moose Jaw River (Drainage Stewardship Upper Souris Watershed Association, 2016). As discussions progressed between the producers with MJRWS and the Water Security Agency (WSA), it was concluded that a C&D district should be developed for producers to have control and governance of the water flow in the basin. The Okabena C&D area was created in 2012 and the producers were able to effectively coordinate themselves and work collaboratively with Moose Jaw River Watershed Stewards in Farm Stewardship Programming to receive additional support and funding as a C&D area.
Eventually, producers and MJRWS worked collaboratively to develop the C&D and developed an engineered plan to hire an engineering firm to design and a contractor to build the project. To lower the velocity of the flow of water, the project followed the natural waterway of the drainage ditch to build ditches. It takes more than 10 years for the ditches to get vegetated, therefore, there are not yet before and results available. However, the vegetated areas have shown better results of nitrogen and phosphor than the non vegetated areas.
⁜ Ditch- a small to moderate divot created to channel water. A ditch can be used for drainage, to drain water from low-lying areas, alongside roadways or fields, or to channel water from a more distant source (Saskatchewan watershed authority, 2006).
⁜ Drainage – movement of water off of land, either naturally or manmade, unauthorized or approved (Saskatchewan watershed authority, 2006).
⁜ Watershed – an area of elevated land that drains into the same region and is the line between drainage basins. It is subject to surface and subsurface drainage under gravity to the ocean or interior lakes (Saskatchewan watershed authority, 2006).
⁜ C&D is a Conservation and Development Area which is governed by aboard. C&D projects are normally drainage or sub-drainage basins. The Conservation and Development Act of Saskatchewan, legislated in 1949, allows landowners in a particular area to petition for a C&D Association. Elected boards govern the design, construction, and long-term maintenance of works project and can levy taxes (Drainage Stewardship Upper Souris Watershed Association, 2016; Briere, 2016b).
⁜ Culvert- is a small channel that carries a stream of water or open drain allowing it to flow under a road or railroad
⁜ Vegetated/Grassed Ditch- A type of drainage ditch that is heavily planted with grasses to provide filtration (Needelman et al, 2007).
The Okabena project was selected as a “success story” for water management by the Implementing Community Citizen Engaged Best Management Practices through Adaptive Management Project research team based on a recommendation by Water Security Agency. Detailed research for this case study started in September 2020 and consisted of reviews of agency reports, technical papers, legislation, news stories, and presentations. Phone call and email correspondence with main project leaders and government officials concluded a series of interviews that provided supplementary information. Qualitative evaluation of the interviews and literature are the basis for the conclusions and discussion in this report.
Okabena is a Conservation and Development area that was defined and established in 2012 by the Minister responsible for Saskatchewan Watershed Authority, as “The Okabena Conservation and Development Area Number One Hundred and Seventy-six”. This area covers 14,800 acres of land that drain from near Rouleau toward Moose Jaw with eight landowners and about 50 producers engaged in farming businesses (Briere, 2016a).
Okabena project area that drain from near Rouleau toward Moose Jaw (Map 1).
Okabena C and D covers covers 14,800 acres (Map2).