Manitoba producers want inter-provincial flood plan

More than 40,000 acres of cropland are under water in Manitoba’s Assiniboine River Valley because the provincial government isn’t working with Saskatchewan officials on water management, says a farmer from Griswold, Man.

Stan Cochrane, president of the Assiniboine Valley Producers Association, said 1,500 acres of cropland on his farm are covered in Assiniboine River water because too much water is flowing into Manitoba from Saskatchewan.

The association represents 75 farmers between Brandon and the Shellmouth Reservoir near Russell, Man.

In June, the Manitoba government was forced to release more water from the reservoir because of excess rain in the Assiniboine River watershed this spring.

As a result, more than 40,000 acres of farmland in the valley downstream of the dam are now flooded, Cochrane said.

“We’re looking at millions of dollars here,” he said. “With the price of crops, there are farmers losing a million dollars.”

Keystone Agricultural Producers president Doug Chorney said the Manitoba government doesn’t properly consider the interests of farmers in its management of the Shellmouth Reservoir.

“This past year is a classic case…. Drought from July 2011 to April 2012 meant that water was held back in reserve all last fall and winter to ensure adequate levels for recreation purposes come summer,” he said in a statement.

“But then it rained in the spring and water was dumped from the reservoir, right after farmers had seeded. We’re talking about livelihoods being destroyed over and over again.”

This will be the third consecutive year that a significant portion of Cochrane’s cropland has been flooded by high water on the Assiniboine River. He said he and other producers in the valley are frustrated by the lack of government response.

“Right now, they (don’t) care (that they) flood out a few farmers,” he said. “As soon as they flood the city (Brandon) out, they’ll be a little more concerned.”

For its part, the province maintains it did consult with producers about water levels in the reservoir this spring.

It said it suggested at a June 5 meeting with producers who sit on the Shellmouth Reservoir Regulation Liaison Committee that it should increase the outflow in early June. That way, there would be less water in the reservoir if June rain increased flows into the body of water known as Lake of the Prairies.

However, a provincial spokesperson said the committee rejected that proposal, which meant the province had to increase outflows when June rain came because the reservoir was at or over capacity.

While affected producers and the province have different versions of what happened this spring, Cochrane said the overarching issue is that too much water is entering the reservoir from Saskatchewan.

“They (Saskatchewan officials) are draining so much water into the (Assiniboine River) valley that there’s nothing held back anymore. As soon as it rains, it runs in,” he said.

“It’s mostly a Saskatchewan water management story. The water in Manitoba is managed reasonably well.”

KAP and producers in the Assiniboine River Valley want the Manitoba government to form an inter-provincial body with Saskatchewan to regulate water flows between the two provinces.

Cochrane said all Manitobans should be concerned about water flowing into the province from the west.

“The floods that we had last year cost the Manitoba government a billion dollars. Where did all the water come from? It came from Saskatchewan. Why wouldn’t the Manitoba government be going after Saskatchewan and saying, ‘we can’t afford to take all your water and drain all your land.’ ”

Cochrane and other members of the Assiniboine Valley Producers Association plan to meet Manitoba government representatives this week to share their concerns.

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