REGINA-- The Citizens Environmental Alliance brought conservationists and farmers together for the Agricultural Drainage and Environment Conference.

The primary focus was on how agricultural drainage – which is used as a tool to increase economic gains – is impacting the environment.

“There’s water quality effects,” said Jeff Olson, the managing director for Citizens Environmental Alliance. “Introduction of phosphorous and nitrogen, as well as other contaminants downstream. There is loss of fish and wildlife habitat.”

Ahead of the conference, a statement from Olson said a recent study of water quality in the Qu’appelle River system found that 91 per cent of the total phosphorus and 51 per cent of the total nitrogen flowing into the river came from agriculture runoff.

In addition to those contaminants, Saskatchewan farmers are partially responsible for the rapid loss of wetlands in the province. Despite the many economic and ecological benefits that wetlands provide, 10,000 acres are drained and converted into cropland each year. It is estimated that 90 per cent of wetlands in Saskatchewan are already gone.

“We don’t want to do something that is going to affect future generations,” Olson said. “It’s a cumulative effect.”

The two perspectives worked towards finding a healthy balance between the environment and the economy. The goal was to move this issue from conflict to sustainability.

Myles Thorpe, president of the Saskatchewan Farm Stewardship Association, said there are many ways farmers are attempting to mitigate the harms that come with draining cropland.

“There are repercussions,” Thorpe admitted. “But we’re doing our best to try and minimize our effect on the environment, and use the land to the best of our ability by not over-applying nutrients, and making use of the water.”

He also emphasized a need for a healthy environment in order for farmers to continue their jobs.

“We have a connection to the land,” said Thorpe. “Without it, we’re out of business.”

Despite speaking from the environmentalist perspective, Olson recognized that the agriculture industry is integral to Saskatchewan’s well-being. He said the Citizens Environmental Alliance is not trying to discourage drainage completely, but to try and make it more environmentally friendly. The conference gave experts and the public an opportunity to give their ideas on how to accomplish this.

“We want to get an understanding with the farmers and eliminate the conflict” said Olson. “We want to get the collaboration to recognize that there are maybe better ways to do it.”