Water is the under managed input in rural environments

REGINA — Agriculture is defined by water. Too little, too much, timing and waste all make water key to any thoughtful discussion about farming systems.

In 2011, the $4 billion flooding in Saskatchewan was the most costly, single natural resources calamity to befall Canada’s 33 million people.

Little more than a year later, Alberta’s flooding was worse, but it paled in a financial comparison to the five-year prairie drought that ended in 2004.

Researcher Helen Baulch of the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan told farmers and agricultural industry members attending the Farm Management Canada’s annual conference in Regina last week that water is likely the least managed resource in the food production system.

And, she said, rural users often tolerate poor supplies and controls and higher costs than their more populous urban neighbours.

Baulch said that overall, rural water is not thought of, funded or managed with the same diligence as urban supplies.

“We have a two tier system in this country,” she said.

Norm Hall, a Saskatchewan farmer who has lost land to the expansion of the Quill Lakes in south-central Saskatchewan, agreed with Baulch’s assessment.

More than 27,000 acres of grain land has been swamped by that water body’s growth and 6.3 metre rise over the past decade.

He suggested that the public is often interested in large-scale seasonal floods, but it can be hard to get attention paid to big management programs that will help to mitigate those and other more regular events.

Baulch said thirty-four percent of rural wells in Ontario have bacterial contamination that makes them unsafe to drink. Fourteen percent have nitrate contamination and seven (percent) have both.”

“And don’t think that’s just Ontario, it’s even higher in some other provinces.”

In the United States, nutrient pollution is estimated to cost $2.2 billion annually, with most being generated by agriculture.

For more information, contact Baulch at homepage.usask.ca/~hmb925/.

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