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The Prairie Provinces Will Need to Deal with Drought

Greg Marchildon, Director of the Saskatchewan Institute of Public Policy (SIPP), delivered the message that while efforts to reduce greenhouse gases can mitigate climate change, the future of the Prairie provinces will depend on our ability as societies to proactively adapt to climate change, to delegates of SIPP’s Symposium on Climate Change this week.The Symposium delegates discussed public policy in terms of adaptation to global warming, climate change and the scarcity of water resources.

“The semi-arid Palliser Triangle (southern Saskatchewan and Alberta) is the second-most vulnerable environment in Canada.The area’s vulnerability has less to do with the rise in temperature than the impact climate change and rising temperatures will have on water.The single-biggest risk for the Canadian prairies is drought, significant and prolonged drought.”

~Greg Marchildon

In 2006, warmer-than-average temperatures were recorded across the world for the 30th consecutive year, a new Statistics Canada report “Human Activity and the Environment: Annual Statistics 2007 and 2008” noted. The report went on to say one of the greatest concerns associated with climate change is the anticipated increase in the frequency of extreme weather events.

Darrell Corkal, a water quality engineer with the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, said the prairies can learn from the past.

“When we take a look and hear about water scarcity, the biggest issue for us in the region is understanding that we live with a variable water supply — we have sometimes too much and oftentimes not enough.Repeated droughts in the past are expected to occur in the future whether or not we believe in climate change and if climate change is superimposed upon the historical record it makes the situation potentially worse.If you accept those scenarios then we need to find ways of dealing with those increased vulnerabilities.Those vulnerabilities are going to force us as a society to make water management decisions as well as adaptations not only at a local level but adaptations institutionally as well as provincially and federally.We can’t be complacent about water and climate.Our major drought in 2001-02 was a two-year duration drought but it was more extensive than the drought of 1931 because it affected more of the country. While the most severely hit areas were the Prairie provinces, the 2001-02 drought had a huge economic impact — something like a $6-billion loss in gross domestic product across the country.It had an economic impact but it did not devastate the land environmentally or ecologically like the sustained droughts did in the 1920s which lasted in multiple years.”

~Darrell Corkal

Corkal questions whether the prairies are equipped to deal with the challenges if hit by a repeated drought that could last six to 10 years.

“Our soil conservation techniques and our seeding practices are all helping us cope right now with short-term droughts and our water-management facilities (irrigation) are helping us deal with that as well.But if we ever get hit with a multi-year drought are we ready to deal with that? That is definitely a challenge.Increased water demands by different portions of society whether urban versus industrial demands or different sectors of industry, including agricultural demands, are inevitably going to force society into decisions of making wiser choices of how water is managed and shared.There has to be proactive planning and policies by governments that take into consideration those competing interests and the management and sharing of water in the Palliser Triangle.”

~Darrell Corkal

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