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Saskatchewan crops under snow.

Rising water levels and high precipitation rates are cause for concern for the agriculture community surrounding the Quill Lakes. 


The Saskatchewan Water Security Agency monitors water sustainability. The agency's 2015 Conditions and Freeze Up Report was released on Dec. 10 of last season.


“Precipitation over the entire province is near normal with the exception of an area between Last Mountain Lake and the Quill Lakes,” the report stated.


“It has been wet for several years running,” said Patrick Cherneski, manager of climate operations for Drought Watch, a division of Agriculture and Agri- Food Canada. The Quill Lakes area is a particular area of interest as The Saskatchewan Water Security Agency has been actively searching for a solution to the rising salt lake waters.


The continued rise in water and higher than normal precipitation percentages may pose a serious concern for agriculture in the area according to Kelsey Dale, an articling agrologist at the Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists and a past resident of Plunkett, Sask. which is east of the Quill Lakes.


“Saturated soils have a detrimental effect on crops. When you have water logged soils it restricts or stunts the plant growth. Soils that are filled with water basically deplete oxygen from the soil,” said Dale.


The surrounding soil would also be susceptible to high saline levels from the lake.


“If the water ever recedes, that land is very unproductive and almost unusable,” said Dale. High saline soil levels mean it’s harder for plants to take in water and some plants like beans and wheat are sensitive and do not grow well in such conditions.


Since 2005, the Quill Lakes water level has risen a staggering 6.5 metres. As of an August 2015 SWSA report, 27,000 acres of private land and 58,000 acres of Crown land have been impacted. If or when the lakes rise another metre, the lake will likely overflow. The SWSA estimates another 83,000 acres of private property would be lost.


“A lot of the land is pasture land, so a lot of native grasses are grown there and whether they are going to grow back or not is really questionable,” said Dale.


“An area which covers the Last Mountain Lake and Southeastern portion of the Quill Lake’s basins received over 200 per cent of normal precipitation over the 30 day period preceding freeze up.” the SWSA reports.


The impacts of that rain is still to be determined. “That’s some of the areas they’re going to be watching and have concerns with going into this Spring,” said SWSA spokesperson Patrick Boyle.


In September 2015, the agency proposed diverting fresh water from Kutawagan Creek away from Quill Lake to Last Mountain Lake. The proposal was later dropped as stakeholders and public consultants decided not to proceed. Herb Cox, minister responsible for the SWSA, assured the public that the agency is continuing to search for potential options for the situation.


Snowfall and winter conditions are still to impact spring conditions and the Spring Runoff Reports will give a more accurate picture of conditions in the spring. 


Stats Canada is a long-time climate monitor that continues to witness an increase in mean temperatures and precipitation within Saskatchewan over past decades.


Stefan Kienzle, the chair of the University of Lethbridge department of geography, has studied climate data throughout the past 60 years in Canada. The data shows the growing season for crop farmers has lengthened by two to three weeks because of the reduction in frost days.


Although high precipitation has had a negative impact, the temperature increases have been positive for farmers.