Current low water levels in Manitoba lakes and rivers and what impact that could have on one of the province’s most important economic sectors is a source of growing concern for the provincial government, says Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler.
“Lake Manitoba is now at an all-time historic low,” said Schuler, “It has never been this low before at this time of the year and that is problematic.”
The Assiniboine River’s water flow rate at Headingley is nearly half of what it normally is for this time of year, with low water levels exposing large shorelines and previously submerged debris.
A long drought, evaporation and natural outgoing water flows are largely the cause, says Schuler, who is worried what may happen to Manitoba’s agricultural industry without major precipitation in the months ahead.
“If we don’t get above-average snowfall coming out of this winter we could conceivably see catastrophic results,” he said, also noting that dry conditions are already impacting Manitoba Hydro’s energy output capacity.
After an extremely hot and dry summer, it has been a tough year for some growers, said Bill Campbell, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers.
Campbell is hopeful for the year ahead and says a high amount of wintertime precipitation is helpful but not a necessity for a bountiful harvest.
“Major snowfalls give you that assurance something will likely be there,” said Campbell.
“I think its contingent on how much spring rain we get,” he said, “If it rains four or five inches in May (that) can make up for a lot of snow,” he said.
Low water levels have been an issue for a number of Manitoba communities over the last months.
The Pembina Valley Water Coop, which servers fourteen municipalities in southern Manitoba, only just ended their “Drought State of Emergency” on October 26th, originally put in place at the end of July.
“But we have to watch it through the winter and see what happens,” said Greg Archibald, CEO of Pembina Valley Water Cooperative Inc. “If we don’t get rain or snow throughout the winter, that could bring us back to the same situation next spring.”
Meantime, the province acknowledges that climate change is playing a role in precipitation and temperature fluctuations.
“We also have to talk about climate resiliency projects and how we invest in those,” said Schuler. “That is going to be a very important policy discussion that our government is now preparing to have with Manitobans.”