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Prairie provinces face widespread drought

Albertans are crossing their fingers that predicted cloudy patches translate to rain later this week to wash away what has become one of the most dry Junes on record across Alberta.

The dry weather extends into parts of Saskatchewan, scorching soccer fields, scratching golf courses, affecting crops and wildlife reproduction and prompting a ban on private fireworks.

"Most of June we saw some of the driest weather in 50 years in parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan," said Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips.

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The parched weather has taken a toll. To keep the grass from dying, crews in Edmonton have taken to watering the largest 200 of its 1,700 soccer fields.

"Last year we didn't have applied irrigation in any field, that's how bad it is this year," said vegetation manager Gary Chan.

"Nobody could really predict that we would have this drought. We are not totally prepared."

Jim Hole, who sells greenhouse and bedding plants north of Edmonton, said customers are returning scores of plants that are struggling to survive in the heat.

"I have not seen a year this dry in a long time," he said.

In Calgary, greenkeepers say despite constant watering on the courses, golfers are still having to pitch and putt in short grass stretches that are sunburned.

Near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, experts say wildlife reproduction rates will be affected because amphibians and ducks don't have adequate water for their nests.

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More than two dozen Alberta counties have issued fire bans, while all private Canada Day fireworks have been called off in the province.

"With the continuing dry, windy weather the probability of uncontrolled fires occurring are heightening," said Edmonton fire marshal Ron Jeske.

Farmers are feeling the worst of the hot weather.

"It's a whole strip with a significant impact of drought from southeast of Edmonton to west of Rosetown in Saskatchewan," said Agriculture Canada specialist Trevor Hadwen.

"The drought region might expand. We are closely monitoring those areas and keeping an eye on the impact."

Nine Alberta counties have declared an agricultural emergency disaster.

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The problem stretches back to the winter, said Mr. Hadwen. Southern Alberta and most of the northern region of Saskatchewan didn't receive much snowfall, then didn't get much rain this spring.

That, coupled with low seasonal temperatures, triggered the drought.

Mr. Hadwen said the lack of moisture stopped crops from growing and depressed yield potential to the point farmers are considering plowing their crops under or using them for alternate uses such as grazing.

"Agricultural producers are running out of feed for their animals. They are looking at reducing their herd size or moving their animals into areas that have some feed, and that can be considerable distance away," he said.

"The economic impacts could be huge for producers."

Alberta Agriculture said that during the past two centuries, 40 droughts have hit Western Canada, the last from 1999-2004, which was deemed the worst in a century.

"Compared to the last drought for the Prairies in 2002, this is larger and more widespread with about the same intensity," said Ralph Wright, a soil moisture expert with the department.

He said while any rain would be welcome, it may not be enough. What's needed, he said, is a major system of moisture, from 50 to 75 millimetres over four days, followed by the normal amount of July rainfall.

"All we can do now is damage control."

















12:25ET 01-07-09

(Via Satellite Feed)

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