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Farm groups in Manitoba, Saskatchewan urge long-term solution to flooding

REGINA - Farm groups say Manitoba, Saskatchewan and neighbouring U.S. states need to work together on a long-term solution to flooding.

Doug Chorney, with Keystone Agricultural Producers, said it's one thing if a farmer has to deal with too much water on his land, but the problem is worse if water is also coming from 100 farms upstream.

Chorney suggests there should be more structures built to store water and points to work being done by the Red River Basin Commission in North Dakota.

"It's deliberate storage of water to not only protect local residents, but also reduce the flow of water during peak floods at the Canadian border by 20 per cent," Chorney said from Brandon, where members of Manitoba's Keystone group met Thursday to talk about the recent flooding.

"What we're seeing in this event is people protecting themselves and their farmland, but sacrificing their downstream neighbours, and that's not sustainable. Somebody has to either pay for that or resolve it."

Chorney said he's not opposed to drainage as a tool to help farmers, but it has to be done with consequences in mind.

Norm Hall, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, said there has been a lot of talk that farmers draining their land in Saskatchewan added to the flooding in Manitoba.

But Hall said many areas in Saskatchewan hit by torrential rain nearly two weeks ago were already saturated to the point where rivers and creeks were running high.

"Because such a large amount of rain fell in such a short time, you know, four to nine inches in a matter of 48 hours, virtually every drop of that ran off," Hall said from Wynyard, Sask.

"Whether the land was drained or not, that water was running and so Manitoba is getting every drop of that rain."

Hall agrees with Chorney that a system-wide plan is needed to better manage the water.

Work is underway with the new Assiniboine River Basin Commission, which includes the Assiniboine, Qu'Appelle and Souris rivers.

Hall and Chorney said the work is essential.

"Before this (flood) happened we were having trouble getting buy-in from certain groups and hopefully this will open some eyes because this is a very important event and we may be seeing more of those coming through, too," said Hall.

The comments come as Saskatchewan Agriculture estimated that between 809,000 and 1.2 million hectares of farmland in the province have been flooded and are unlikely to produce a crop.

Saskatchewan Agriculture crop specialist Shannon Friesen said fields still need to dry and be assessed, but the numbers are most likely to go up.

In Manitoba it's estimated some 400,000 hectares went unseeded because of a soggy spring.

Chorney said that when you include seeded land wiped out by flooding, the total is about 1.4 million hectares.

He said the flood is taking its toll on farmers, some of whom also lost their crop to high water in 2011.

"A lot of people have seen their resolve to go on really shaken," Chorney said.

"It's of course a traumatic event any time you get your property flooded or your house flooded, whether you're a farmer or not. But when it happens twice in three years, that's a lot to deal with."

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