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Farm groups in Canada and U.S. urge long-term solution to flooding

The swollen Assiniboine River covers farmland east of Brandon, Man. as seen from the air on Sunday, July 6, 2014.


Farm groups say Manitoba, Saskatchewan and neighbouring U.S. states need to work together on a long-term solution to flooding.

Doug Chorney of Keystone Agricultural Producers said it is one thing if a farmer has to deal with too much water on his land, but the problem is worse if water is also coming from 100 farms upstream.

Mr. Chorney suggested more structures should be built to store water, pointing to work being done by the Red River Basin Commission in North Dakota.

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"It's deliberate storage of water to not only protect local residents, but also reduce the flow of water during peak floods at the Canadian border by 20 per cent," Mr. Chorney said from Brandon, where members of Manitoba's Keystone group met on Thursday to talk about the recent flooding.

"What we're seeing in this event is people protecting themselves and their farmland, but sacrificing their downstream neighbours, and that's not sustainable. Somebody has to either pay for that or resolve it."

Mr. Chorney said he does not oppose drainage as a tool to help farmers, but it has to be done with consequences in mind.

Norm Hall, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, said there has been a lot of talk that farmers draining their land in Saskatchewan added to the flooding in Manitoba.

But he said many areas in Saskatchewan hit by torrential rain nearly two weeks ago were already saturated to the point where rivers and creeks were running high.

"Because such a large amount of rain fell in such a short time, you know, four to nine inches in a matter of 48 hours, virtually every drop of that ran off," Mr. Hall said from Wynyard, Sask.

"Whether the land was drained or not, that water was running, and so Manitoba is getting every drop of that rain."

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Mr. Hall agrees with Mr. Chorney that a system-wide plan is needed to better manage the water.

Work is under way with the new Assiniboine River Basin Commission, which includes the Assiniboine, Qu'Appelle and Souris rivers.

Mr. Hall and Mr. Chorney said the work is essential.

"Before this [flood] happened, we were having trouble getting buy-in from certain groups, and hopefully this will open some eyes because this is a very important event and we may be seeing more of those coming through, too," Mr. Hall said.

Saskatchewan Agriculture estimates that between 809,000 and 1.2 million hectares of farmland in the province have been flooded and are unlikely to produce a crop.

Saskatchewan Agriculture crop specialist Shannon Friesen said fields still need to dry and be assessed, but the numbers will most likely go up.

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In Manitoba, some 400,000 hectares are estimated to have gone unseeded because of a soggy spring.

Mr. Chorney said that when seeded land wiped out by flooding is included, the total is about 1.4 million hectares.

He said the flood is taking its toll on farmers, some of whom also lost their crop to high water in 2011.

"A lot of people have seen their resolve to go on really shaken," Mr. Chorney said.

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