Securing funding, building relationships,
and telling our story

By Ray Frey, Chair, and Sean Goertzen, Executive Director

With the pressures on our soil, water, habitat, and climate, the work of Manitoba’s Conservation Districts has never been more important.

As a result, it has never been more important for Manitoba Conservation Districts Association (MCDA) to provide leadership and support to our districts. The MCDA board and staff have been working hard to fulfill this mandate, in partnership with the district boards and staff, Manitoba Sustainable Development, municipalities, and other government departments and conservation groups.

Over the past year, we have worked with Manitoba Sustainable Development to keep the lines of communication strong between our districts and the Minister, Deputy Minister, and department staff. The town hall in September, small meetings throughout the year, and the Q&A session at conference have been useful channels for the districts to have their priorities heard on the transition to Watershed Districts, core funding, GROW, the Water Rights Regulation, and more.

In February 2019, MCDA and Upper Assiniboine River Conservation District were asked to be part of a working group to develop proposals that sequester carbon and achieve carbon savings targets in the Climate and Green Plan. With input from the working group, Sustainable Development created a proposal to increase funding for Manitoba’s Conservation District’s current carbon sequestration work and soil health programming. We were pleased to find out in June that the proposal made it into the Expert Advisory Council’s recommendations to Minister Squires. It is not yet guaranteed to be funded, but we are one step closer to our districts playing a larger role in implementing Manitoba’s Climate and Green Plan.

In total, MCDA has been building relationships with six departments across two levels of government: Manitoba Sustainable Development, Manitoba Agriculture, Manitoba Infrastructure, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Infrastructure Canada, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Topics have included the need to allow private land (e.g. farmland) in natural infrastructure funding, modernization of the agricultural Crown lands regulation, and much more. While the details differ between topics, our main message is always that Conservation Districts can help break down silos between departments and effectively carry out programs for conservation, water management, natural infrastructure, and more.

We’ve also been building relationships with key contacts in the non-profit and for-profit worlds. MCDA had a strong presence at the conferences of the Red River Basin Commission, Assiniboine River Basin Initiative, Keystone Agricultural Producers, Ag Days, Lake Winnipeg Basin Program, plus many one-on-one meetings and interactions on social media.

15 speakers, 31 exhibitors and over 400 people attended our 43rd Conservation Districts Conference in December. Tannis and Derek Axten were the biggest hit, sharing their soil health success stories from their Saskatchewan farm. The conference continues to serve as an important hub for our districts to learn from one another and from the entire conservation community.

In the past year, MCDA has secured $700,000 (over four years) for our districts to build water retention, collaborate with First Nations, study sustainable grazing practices, and develop a small dam optimization tool. Funders such as the Lake Winnipeg Basin Program and the Conservation Trust know that our districts deliver high value for money, and they see that MCDA can help reduce red tape on projects involving multiple districts.

In closing, you can expect more from MCDA along these lines as we promote Conservation Districts and future Watershed Districts as key players in protecting Manitoba’s watersheds. Read through The Current and see what Manitoba’s Conservation Districts have achieved through local knowledge, local relationship building, and grassroots conservation.