Excess water soaks Alberta

It will be awhile until pivot irrgation is needed in some fields within Lethbridge County. Standing water in fields is commonplace, as in this one near Park Lake, north of Lethbridge.  |  Barb Glen photo

ENCHANT, Alta. — The worst of the overland flooding in southern Alberta might be over for most farmers in the Lethbridge and Taber areas, but work has barely begun for the county and municipal district as they assess damage to rural roads, many of which are closed to traffic.

A local state of emergency remained in place as of April 23 for the Municipal District of Taber after first being declared March 23. Lethbridge County lifted its declared local state of emergency April 17, and like Taber, the region has widespread road closures and crews have been working steadily to open snow- and ice-clogged ditches, culverts and drainage areas.

“The worst is over,” said MD of Taber administrator Derrick Krizsan April 23.

“In many areas water continues to flow but certainly the risk to residential property has decreased. We’re transitioning now into the recovery.”

“We’re inventorying damages to public infrastructure and we continue pumping operations on many locations in the MD, getting water away from roads, intersections and other municipal infrastructure.”

Snow and ice buildup in ditches, blocked culverts and plugged canals created the problem but somewhat ironically, frozen ground saved some roads, he added.

“Actually the presence of the frost saved a lot of our road infrastructure from considerably more damage. Were it not for the frost remaining in the roads, we would have lost a considerable number of roads to a higher level of damage. So I guess the presence of frost was more of a blessing than a curse this time.”

Lynn Jacobson, president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture, farms near Enchant. Like many of his neighbours, he is pulling pumps around in efforts to rid farmland of excess water.

“The snow is all melted now. We’re still getting the runoff and the ditches are starting to open up,” said Jacobson about his region of the MD.

“I would say the worst flooding part is over. Now it’s just to start pumping the water off the land and getting rid of that. The sad part about it is after two months we’ll be pumping like crazy to put it back on.”

Jacobson anticipates seeding will be delayed until the first week of May. The timing is later than it has been for the past few years but historically not unusual and he hasn’t heard of anyone changing their seeding plans as a result of anticipated seeding dates.

However, waterlogged roads and weight restrictions are sure to delay grain movement off farms, he added.

“The roads are soft, soft, soft. I’ve never seen them this soft.”

Greg Stamp of Stamp Seeds in Enchant had a crew working April 20 to pump water off fields. The business has a view of the Enchant Golf Course, which has far more water hazards than ever intended.

“We’ve had some ditches and some roadways overflowing and water going through fields making its own rivers,” said Stamp.

“Some people had some tilled fields and it did erode some soil from those channels.”

A colder than usual winter is to blame for those experiencing overland flooding.

“It was a bad winter. That’s what caused our problem. Lots of snow, no chinooks … and then the frost wasn’t out, either, so the water just ran. That’s why it’s so bad.”

The Enchant region is part of the Bow River Irrigation District, which has sustained damage to some of its canals and infrastructure as a result of ice jams and water overflowing riprap protection on canals.

Further south, in the St. Mary River Irrigation District, general manager Terrence Lazarus said 40 backhoes were at work last week to remove ice from canals and allow farmers to pump water off their fields and into the system.

“We worked around the clock for many days,” said Lazarus.

Snowmelt ran into canals and lifted the ice, which hung up on bridges and infrastructure. Some canals remained clogged as of April 19 but warm weekend weather improved the situation.

The SMRID got blanket approval April 19 from Alberta Environment to allow farmers to pump into the irrigation system. That will help ease field ponding but will delay the irrigation district’s ability to assess damage to the canal system. It could thus delay the start of the irrigation season.

“It’s going to be a big problem this year to get going,” said Lazarus.

Irrigators usually have access to water around May 1, but that assumes water starts flowing at the head of the system in mid-April, and that is not going to happen.

“This year it’s looking more like the middle of May that we’ll be guaranteeing water. There’s a lot of stress around that. We do want to get water as quickly as we can to the irrigators.”

Stamp said he is selling more barley seed this year, partly because of a good barley price outlook and partly because of farmers’ worry over a later planting date.

However, seeding is likely to begin on sandier, well drained soil in Alberta’s south in the first week of May, said both Stamp and Jacobson.

Terence Hochstein, executive director of Alberta Potato Growers, said he expects growers will be seeding next week and that is not far off the average. Last year, some potatoes had been seeded by March 27, but that was unusually early.

“We’re behind, but we’re not bad,” Hochstein said of seeding dates.

“Every day it gets better.”

Sugar beet planting is two to four weeks behind the usual timing, said Melody Garner-Skiba of Alberta Sugar Beet Growers.

“Typically our guys are out in the field and wrapping up in the first week of May,” she said.

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