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Record Sask. snowfall won't overcome years of 'unprecedented' drought, hydrologist says


Saskatchewan’s near-record snowfall is bringing some relief to farmers, although it may not be enough to stave off long term drought concerns.

According to Environment Canada, many parts of southern and central Saskatchewan received 20 or more centimetres, with areas surrounding Saskatoon receiving upwards of 40 — or nearly 16 inches.

"The important thing to remember is, the snowfalls we get in that February, March and even into April time are really, really important from a snow, water equivalency point of view," said Brian Proctor, a meteorologist with Environment Canada.

"How much water is available for agriculture moving forward? We need that moisture there to help alleviate some of the drought concerns we had coming into and through the winter."

Ian Boxall, a Tisdale-area farmer and president of the Agriculture Producers Association of Saskatchewan, feels the snow blanketing his crops will do little to ease concerns of widespread drought the province has experienced in recent years.

"This week's snow was welcomed, but I don't think it's going to alleviate what we've seen over the last number of years. We have areas of the province that are going into year five or six of the drought," he said.

Boxall penned a letter on behalf of APAS Wednesday to call for the establishment of a provincial drought preparedness committee. The letter, addressed to Minister of Agriculture David Marit, underscores the need for proactive measures to mitigate the

impact of drought on farmers, ranchers, and rural communities.

"There's an opportunity for the government and organizations like APAS to be proactive when it comes to our policy development and when it comes to drought mitigation," Boxall said.

"And ensure we get ahead of the curve and we're making the best decisions if this happens, instead of always trying to do it under the gun."

The letter outlines four ways the proposed drought preparedness committee could help people: early warning and mitigation, resource allocation, stakeholder engagement, and long-term planning.

In an effort to increase the reduced yields during drought years and the sparse feed for livestock, Boxall is hoping this committee would form an early warning system. He wants to see mechanisms in place to allocate resources during drought emergencies, and collaborate between government agencies, organizations and farmers to form long-term strategies to be more adaptable in drought years.

"We need to ensure we have a plan in place," Boxall said.

Planning decades into the future will become vital as water reveals the impacts of climate change.

If progress isn't made soon, water management in all seasons of the year will be extremely difficult, as the scale of widespread drought is unlike anything Canada has ever seen.

"That's unprecedented in Canadian history," said John Pomeroy, one of the country's leading hydrologists.

"The other thing in Saskatchewan is that northern Saskatchewan has been experiencing it along with the south. In the past, there were always pockets that had pretty good moisture."

Pomeroy, the Canada research chair in water resources and climate change, said measurements at a site near Clavet show last weekend's snowstorm increased the amount of snow in the field by just 1cm.

"That snow came with substantial wind," Pomeroy said. "It would have been 20 centimeters of depth if it had fallen without the wind, so it's all about what happens to it as it hits the ground."

As the mountains to Saskatchewan's west also experience drought, Pomeroy says Saskatchewan should get used to low water levels, depleted soil moisture and reserves in the years to come.

"You need that moisture to evaporate in the summer to help generate rainfall," he said. "We've got some serious problems there."

Other places in the world have experienced "mega droughts." a drought that persists for more than 10 years.

"It means that we have to manage water and treat agriculture in a fundamentally different way if we end up with persistent drought, so we're not there yet, but we're halfway into one and it's time to start to really be concerned about that," Pomeroy said.

With the realities of extended droughts becoming more commonplace, Pomeroy said Saskatchewan should be working with Alberta and other provinces to retain water, thoughtfully expand irrigation and allow for dams and rivers to work accordingly, since much of the province's water comes from Alberta's mountain snowmelt.

Last fall, the province established a provincial drought steering committee, led by the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency.

The committee includes multiple ministries, Sask. Water, Saskatchewan Crop Insurance and the Water Security Agency.

The committee is creating a provincial drought plan, intended to be included into the provincial emergency management plan once complete.

The plan will identify ministry and agency-led drought programs, coordinate planning and create an operational task team to respond to drought events. Top Stories

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