Manitoba’s extremely dry summer and unusually warm fall have resulted in historic lows for river and lake levels across the province.
And that could lead to problems in the spring – unless the province receives massive snowfall this winter, said Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler.
âWe haven’t seen anything like this since the 1930s, so we’re very concerned,â Schuler told host Shannah-Lee Vidal in a CBC interview Friday. Radio Midi.
“If we don’t get substantially above average snowfall this winter, we could have serious problems next spring.”
The water flow of the Assiniboine River at Headingley is about half of what it is normally at this time of year – about 560 cubic feet per second, compared to normal flows of about 1,000 cubic feet per second.
âAnd that number keeps dropping,â Schuler said.
Although there has been some rain in recent weeks, that precipitation has all been absorbed into the ground.
The ground is in turn dried out by continued warm temperatures, Schuler said, although this will slow down somewhat once the frost sets in.
But he’s worried about what the trend will mean for Manitoba agricultural producers, who have already been hit hard by the summer drought.
This dry weather resulted in poor growth in pastures, which often meant animals had to be moved several times to graze, and sometimes a great distance. Many farmers have had to sell their animals during emergency sales, and some have closed their doors altogether.
âAgriculture is already grappling with drought [weather] that we had last summer. If we keep drying until next spring, it could end up being very, very bad for agriculture. And it will also be very bad for our lakes, âsaid Schuler.
A longtime resident of the Rural Municipality of Headingley, just west of Winnipeg, said he has never seen anything like what is happening with Manitoba water levels right now.
“It’s a little alarming,” said Ed Johner, who has lived in the RM for almost 50 years.
âPeople will start to have foundation problems because their soil is moving away from their basement walls. It has all kinds of repercussions. I am very worried.
And the low water levels are not only a strange sight, they are also a threat to anyone who needs clean water or hydropower.
The town of Morden has already had to restrict water use this summer due to low water levels in Lake Minnewasta, the source of drinking water for the southern Manitoba community.
And Manitoba Hydro announced in September that it does not expect to meet its export targets this winter due to the drought.
Going forward, Schuler said Manitoba needs to invest in climate resilience projects to deal with extreme variations in weather, which could lead to a 1,000-year flood followed by drought next year.
âThis will probably involve starting to hold water and not just let it flow north and just try to get it out of our watershed because we’re going to need it,â he said.