Ongoing water problems downstream of the Shellmouth Dam have become an increasing irritation between the provincial government and the producers caught in periodic flooding.
But the problems are coming to a head as producers lose more and more of their livelihoods to more frequent periods of flooding.
As the Sun reported yesterday, the Assiniboine Valley Producers believe that at least 40,000 acres of the 50,000 acres of farmland in the valley will be affected by overland flooding.
Producers like Mel Hofer, who manages the Deerboine Colony north of Alexander, say the province’s decision to hold back water this spring at the Shellmouth, out of possible drought concerns, has caused the producers to lose thousands of dollars they could not afford. He says he has already lost between 1,000 and 1,200 acres of crop, after the flood gates opened.
“It’s the timing,” Hofer said. “This year, we put the crop in and undertook all of the expense, and now it’s man-made error up north that is hurting us really hard. One year you could live with it, but it’s three years in a row. This is the second out of the last four that we’ve put all the inputs in and reaped zero.”
Last year, the province introduced legislation that would require compensation for artificial flooding caused by operation of the Shellmouth Dam.
And of course this year, like past years, producers are calling for compensation for their lost crops from the province. After all, that’s what the legislation is there for, right?
But the government of Manitoba is dragging its heels, saying that the current flooding situation is not artificial, but rather a natural problem.
Progressive Conservative conservation critic Larry Maguire says the province is still undergoing a study to determine just what “artificial” means. It’s a great way for the provincial NDP to give the appearance of caring about the fate of producers in the Assiniboine Valley, while prevaricating over responsibility.
Case in point, provincial cabinet spokesperson Jean-Marc Prevost told the Sun that the flooding along the Assiniboine River would have been unavoidable, even without the operation of the Shellmouth Dam.
“The Shellmouth Dam reservoir does not guarantee against flooding in heavy precipitation events.”
He also blamed heavy rainfall amounts this spring within the Assiniboine watershed for the excess water coming downstream.
But there are other factors in play here. Earlier this year, a number of Manitoba producers who attended a Keystone Agricultural Producers convention blamed Saskatchewan producers for flooding events along the Assiniboine and Souris rivers, including the one-in-300-year flood in 2011.
In an article published by The Western Producer in February, Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan president Norm Hall said many producers in Saskatchewan had contributed to flooding by building new drainage ditches within their properties over several years, causing rapid runoff.
As well, Hall said Saskatchewan’s enforcement system for illegal drainage is toothless and is in need of better legislation.
It must also be noted that there will be environmental consequences to this flooding in the Assiniboine Valley — producers had already planted and fertilized their fields before the waters hit. As the floodwater recedes, at least some of that nitrogen- and phosphorous-rich fertilizer — not to mention all the debris that a flooding river picks up — will seep into the river and end up in Lake Winnipeg.
It’s simply unacceptable for so many producers to be consistently flooded out, without fair compensation. And the province must concede there is some urgency to fix the situation before more environmental harm is done.
There needs to be better communication between the two provincial governments and they need to work together to try and combat these water management issues. But that will take a commitment to actually fix the situation, not more politically expedient legislation and bureaucratic stalling to avoid paying the piper.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 13, 2012