Report puts a number on Sask. lake flooding

The study says farmers near the Quill Lakes have suffered total property losses of more than $100 million since 2012

Farmers and landowners around the Quill Lakes in east-central Saskatchewan have lost more than $100 million since 2012 due to rising water levels, according to a recently released report commissioned by the Quill Lakes Watershed Association.

The report, entitled Economic Impacts of Quill Lakes Flooding 2012-2108, suggests farmers and landowners in the area have lost more than 32,000 acres of cultivated cropland valued at more than $60 million and nearly 42,00 acres of pastureland — including crown-owned pastureland — valued at more than $31 million.

In addition, the value of privately owned farmyards and farm buildings lost to flooding is conservatively estimated at $9 million, bringing total property losses to more than $100 million.

The report concedes that a precise inventory of flooded farmyards and farm buildings in the area does not exist, suggesting that property losses could be much higher than the $100 million figure contained in the study.

Over the same seven-year period, the report also estimated the value of lost crop and beef production at more than $73 million — a number that includes nearly $58 million in lost crop production opportunities and nearly $16 million in lost livestock-production opportunities.

The report was prepared by Jim Warren, an assistant professor of sociology and social studies at the University of Regina, whose research specializes in water governance and management issues.

Rita Marcinowski, executive director with the QLWA, said the association’s board members decided to commission the report because there were no accurate estimates of the financial losses that farmers and landowners had faced.

“The impacts to landowners were never properly accounted for,” Marcinowski said.

“The results of the study highlight what farmers (in the Quill Lakes area) are going through.”

The Quill Lakes are located about 200 kilometres east of Saskatoon.

Water levels in the lakes began rising more than a decade ago and have flooded about 92,000 acres of pasture and cropland since 2005.

Another 15,000 acres could be at risk if water levels continue to rise and a permanent water management solution is not identified, the report suggests.

In addition, repair costs to municipal infrastructure, roads, highways and railway assets had already exceeded $79 million as of 2015.

Some agricultural producers who bought farmland in the area before water levels began to rise are now making land payments on cultivated cropland that is totally submerged.

Garnet Zerbin, a farmer and landowner from Dafoe, Sask., said the findings of the economic impact study come as no surprise to him or his neighbours.

Zerbin, who lost six quarter sections of cultivated farmland and 10 quarter sections of pasture and hayland, said revenue and property losses on his farm alone are probably in excess of $2 million.

“For the people who live around the lake, we think the economic losses (presented in the report) would be all of that and more,” said Zerbin.

“On our farm, between what we owned and what we rented, we lost roughly 46 percent of our landbase.”

About three years ago, rising lake levels also forced Zerbin to move his family’s main farmyard to higher ground, about five kilometres away.

The province helped to pay for the relocation of Zerbin’s house but the remainder of the bill — including costs associated with relocating farm buildings and grain bins — was covered by Zerbin, as well as friends and neighbours who contributed time and money.

Zerbin said slightly lower water levels this year have allowed him to reclaim some of his land but the soil is in poor condition, infested with weeds, and rehabilitation efforts have been slow and costly.

“We’ve reclaimed some of what we lost but it’s a huge job, picking up all the driftwood, the lumber, the trees and the carcasses,” he said.

“You can’t just go in there and run over it with a discer. It has to be all picked by hand and hauled away, so it’s a very, very, very big job.”

The QLWA is hoping the study will draw attention to economic impact of flooding and will convince provincial and federal politicians to find a permanent solution that is acceptable to all landowners in the Quill Lakes watershed, as well as property owners downstream.

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