We love water, and it’s our love for our watershed that drives us to share stories about our watershed with you. But what happens when water is in short supply? How do we start a dialogue about the lack of this precious resource?
Yes, we’re talking about drought.
This summer, our province – and the rest of Western Canada – has felt the weight of drought-like conditions. Uncontrolled wildfire, agricultural disaster, and water restrictions have affected much of the western half of our country.
Our own North Saskatchewan River is at its lowest flow rate in 14 years, sitting at about a third of what we usually see this time of year. A warm winter and little spring rain is being blamed.
The conditions are worst in Southern Alberta, where residents are being asked to use less water and temporary licenses for water use are being restricted. Thousands of hectares of wildfires blaze across Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and Alaska.
But is drought like this abnormal?
Not exactly. Drought is unsurprising in Alberta and the rest of the prairies, and extreme droughts have been recorded in our province’s history. One of the worst droughts occurred during the Great Depression, when the prairies were plagued with swarms of grasshoppers, crop failure, erosion of topsoil, and salinization of the soil3. The drought lasted into the 1930s, and the average income of Saskatchewan farmers plunged more than 70 per cent in 5 years. This period of time was referred to as the “Dust Bowl,” and regular dust storms swept across the prairies of North America. Drought has come and gone since then, and the last drought of such magnitude struck in the 1980s4.
Yet, it is the continuity and widespread nature of the drought this year that is abnormal: the dry area extends from the edge of Northwest Ontario to the Pacific Ocean, and from the Mexican border to nearly the Arctic Ocean2. The drought impacts us economically and environmentally. Along with personal daily use, our province needs water for our crops, construction projects, and recreation.
Since our watershed receives most of its depth from snowmelt, winter warming will have increasing effects on our watershed. Climate change increases the variability of precipitation, and periods of drought may increase in frequency and length4.
We’re watching our watershed for the effects of this year’s drought.
Mertz, E. (July 9, 2015). North Saskatchewan River at lowest flow rate since 2001. Global News. Retrieved from: http://globalnews.ca/news/2101549/north-saskatchewan-river-at-lowest-flow-rates-since-2001/.
Mandel, Charles. (July 13, 2015). Is this drought caused by climate change? The National Observer. Retrieved from: http://www.nationalobserver.com/2015/07/13/news/drought-caused-climate-change.
Drought in 20th Century Alberta. (2013). Alberta Water Portal. Retrieved from: http://albertawater.com/history-of-drought-in-alberta/drought-in-20th-century-alberta.
Water & Drought. (2015). SaskAdapt. Retreived from: http://www.parc.ca/saskadapt/adaptation-options/theme-assessments/water-drought.