Minor changes to farm drains will be easier with Drainage Act changes

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It will be easier for Ontario farmers to make minor changes to drains on their property.

The Drainage Act regulates every farm drain in Ontario

The act is one of the oldest pieces of legislation in Ontario. It first passed in 1859 and has only been updated once, in 1975.

Over the past year, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has been considering changes. They were passed in June.

Tim Brook, OMAFRA’s Drainage Program Coordinator, says the big change will be for farmers looking to make changes to a drain on their property. Until now, even the smallest changes went through a 180 day process. Brook says it can now move ahead more quickly for projects “on one property, only benefiting one farmer, and it won’t affect other properties in a negative way.”

“So, an example of that might be, where a farmer purchases a larger combine or something. And the existing road access crossing over the drain or from field to field is not wide enough to safely accommodate this larger piece of equipment. And so rather than going through the previous, larger improvement process, this minor improvement process is a more timely and cost effective way for these sort of one property specific projects or requirements,” says Brook.

The farmer would simply download a form from OMFRA’s website, explain the project and the municipality could approve it if it fits the minor project guidelines.

There will also be some changes to larger projects which affect multiple farmers.
Brook says in the old process, completing a major drain project with multiple farms affected could take a year or two. The changes passed in June give a 180 day requirement “from the time the engineer is appointed to getting that report and that design into council.”

Brook adds the new regulations will make it easier for the contractors to make changes when necessary. They’ll be able to add 33 per cent more to the cost of the project without returning to council for approval. Brook says while that’s a lot of extra cash, it’s in line with other parts of the act which give 33 per cent as a benchmark for seeking council approval for cost overruns.

“Now it says you have to hold a special meeting to make sure everyone is on board with that extra (33 per cent) cost…So if you’re 10 or 20 per cent more, it’s in that range where really the municipality can move forward.”

The landowners foot the entire bill for the drains, although municipalities have the option to spread that payment – which can be tens of thousands of dollars per landowner – over a number of years.

The province hopes the changes will move work forward more quickly. About $100 million a year is invested privately in drain works in Ontario.