A Ponoka-area farm family have been unfairly ordered to fix decades-old drainage work done by lone-gone landowners, says their lawyer.
Well-known landowner advocate Keith Wilson is taking on Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development on behalf of Zealand Farms owners Henk and Gerrie Krijger.
The Ponoka-area poultry farmers were ordered in February to restore a Crown-owned lake that the province says was drained illegally.
An enforcement order under the Water Act says the unapproved work included draining a 51-acre lake about 10 km east of Ponoka and a smaller wetland, excavating near a lake outlet and putting fill into the lake.
Under the order, the Krijgers must restore the lake to the condition it was in before any unauthorized drainage work was done. They have until March 2015.
Wilson said the Krijgers admit they moved some earth to fill in a low-lying area in 2011 and 2013. That work was reversed last March under the direction and to the satisfaction of Alberta Environment.
At issue is a second part to the order, which is directly connected with the unnamed lake and an allegation that they lowered the lake level.
The Krijgers did nothing to lower the lake level, which is controlled by a pair of culverts, said Wilson. What drainage work happened was done in the 1960s by previous landowners, nearly 50 years before the Krijgers bought the land in 2011.
“They weren’t even in the country when this ditching work was done,” said Wilson.
In a letter to Alberta Environment, Wilson says that the order forcing the Krijgers to restore ditching that was changed as far back as 1963 is “without jurisdiction, unfair, arbitrary and, therefore, unlawful.”
Wilson said the restoration work could cost at least $175,000 based on estimates provided by Alberta Environment.
When he raised the absurdity of making farmers fix historical drainage work they had nothing to do with, he was told by environment officials that it was in keeping with the province’s new wetlands policy.
“This case is absolutely bizarre.
“Every attempt to get the government to give its head a shake and be reasonable and fair has failed,” he said. “The government is hell bent on doing this.”
Besides the cost to the Krijgers, changing the drainage patterns now may cut off water supply to dugouts used by a nearby cattle producer, said Wilson.
An environmental appeal board hearing will take place on Jan. 29 in Edmonton unless the province and the Krijgers come to a resolution.
Alberta Environment spokeswoman Katrina Bluetchen said they do not comment on matters before the appeal board.