After weeks of wetness, drought conditions ease in parts of the Prairies


Steve Donald has one word to sum up the current state of his southeast Saskatchewan farm:

“Mud.”

The 42-year-old grain and livestock farmer near Moosomin, Saskatchewan. — just over 200 kilometers east of Regina — says repeated spring snowstorms have delayed seeding on his land. But he is optimistic the extra moisture will provide enough food and water for his livestock, and better growing conditions.

“We had no basement moisture before the freeze,” Donald said. “Now with the amount of snow we’ve had all winter, plus what we’re getting now…it’s perfect.”

He now hopes the weather will dry out and warm up, which would make whelping much easier.

Donald hopes the excess humidity will mean more feed and water for his cattle. (Submitted by Steve Donald)

Trevor Hadwen, an agroclimate specialist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, says drought has spread across western Canada for the past five years or so, with Manitoba and Saskatchewan experiencing the worst last summer.

This year, he says, the contrast in Saskatchewan is noticeable.

“The province appears to be split in two, with the eastern regions doing much better than last year and the western regions still struggling with drought,” he said. “These latest storms have really changed the outlook for…the southeast.”

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Drought Watch shows that much of the eastern half of the province was in “moderate drought” – or a five-year drought – as of March 31. Much of the western half, meanwhile, remains in “severe” to “extreme” drought – conditions seen only once every 10 to 20 years.

Much of eastern Saskatchewan is classified as having “moderate” drought conditions, while the western half is still in “severe” to “extreme” drought conditions. (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada)

“This area is going to be set back in terms of pasture recovery; in terms of feed availability,” Hadwen said. “They are going to need continuous rain during the summer period.”

An updated version of the drought map is expected in the first week of May.

Trevor Hadwen of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada says not all areas of the province benefit from excess humidity. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

John Pomeroy, Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change at the University of Saskatchewan, says the drought in southeastern Saskatchewan is over.

It takes hundreds of millimeters of water to reverse the drought, but it can happen, he says.

Pomeroy noted that cooler conditions in the southeast could delay seeding this season, but it should help in the long term to replenish deep soil moisture lost in recent years.

“Nobody lost a crop in a cold April,” Pomeroy said. “Whatever moisture there is will be available in May and June when we need it.”

John Pomeroy, Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change at the University of Saskatchewan, says the drought in southeastern Saskatchewan is over. (Erin Collins/CBC)

All hope is not lost for the western half of the province.

Pomeroy notes that “enormous” accumulations of snow in the Rocky Mountains measuring two meters – with drifts as deep as five meters – have not yet begun to melt.

Once they start to melt in the summer, they’ll fill prairie rivers, providing “enough” water for farmers and hydroelectric plants, Pomeroy said.

Flooding a concern as storms continue

While the humidity is welcome for some, it’s too much for others.

A weak impact from Colorado to parts of Manitoba this weekend could bring up to 80 millimeters of rain. In the worst-case scenario, it could cause the Red River to rise to levels above those seen in 2009 – the worst flooding since what was called the “flood of the century” in 1997.

A surface flood advisory has also been issued by the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency for southeast areas along the Antler River and its tributaries.

Warmer weather this weekend in Saskatchewan could melt snow quickly, causing flooding on farmland and roads.

The agency advised people to stay clear of all waterways with fast moving water.