And Now For Something Different: Irrigation!

Water is on every-one’s mind these days. As this issue went to press, people in the Red River Valley and parts of eastern Saskatchewan were lining up to see who will get on the ark. I flew in to Winnipeg in mid-March and was surprised to see how little snow was in that area — black fields were starting to show with just a little melt.

It seems strange then, that some feds are still in drought mode. But one thing is sure, and that’s that the drought committee will have drought to talk about in the future. Not because of global warming or anything mankind has done, but just because we live in an area where drought is common. Having been born in 1940, I missed the Dirty Thirties, but 1961, 1988 and 2002 are the big ones that stick in my mind.

All the “climate changers” talk a lot about mitigation of drought — when the next drought comes. We need to plan now to deal with the drought that is coming. The measures talked about are moisture efficient farming, drought tolerant crops. Sorry folks, but Prairie farmers are already doing all of the above in spades.

No doubt about it, there’s no need to tell farmers that another drought will come along. But the only way I know of to mitigate against drought is to irrigate. And, if new irrigation projects are to be built now is the time to build them. There’s no point in building a project in a drought to have it ready when the next wet cycle comes along.

In the irrigation area of Saskatchewan the big lake (Diefenbaker) is already in place, happily evaporating more water each summer than we use. Several studies have been done, but there is no significant movement by governments to invest in our future by building irrigation projects.

There have been studies done that say we should build yet more reservoirs to keep back the water from dashing off to the ocean, but we already have a very large reservoir that is very under utilized.

In the longer term we could also be thinking about groundwater. Now, that is a dumb statement coming from Les Henry, you might think, as he has always stated that Mother Nature had the groundwater screwed up before mankind was present and it is not suitable for irrigation. But there are some exceptions. The Fielding aquifer in the Radisson area and Phippen Aquifer in the Wilkie area have excellent water. The Battleford Valley Aquifer that runs deep from North Battleford to north of Saskatoon also has fair water.

Don’t take this the wrong way — the amount of suitable water in aquifers is small and not many pivots could be operated. But if push came to shove and we were looking for ways to survive in a different world we should know where the possible resources are. Any such use of groundwater would have to be based on a thorough knowledge of the resource and the sustainable supply and set priorities as to how it is utilized.

Over-pumping of aquifers and falling water levels in aquifers appears to be putting a kink in the Green Revolution in some parts of the world, or so I have been told.

The Saskatchewan Watershed Authority is active in assembling better information about our aquifers and it is important they have the resources to complete the task.

So, as you put on your rubber boots to get around the yard to prepare equipment and get seeding, think about the day when brown grass meets us in the spring and we need to irrigate. We need to build it now if it is to be in place when needed.

Even if all the available water was used, the biggest part of prairie land would still be parched in a drought. But if planners pretend to be planning drought mitigation the only way to do it is to irrigate.

J.L.(Les)Henryisaformerprofessorand extensionspecialistattheUniversityof Saskatchewan.HefarmsatDundurn,Sask. Herecentlyfinishedasecondprintingof Henry’sHandbookofSoilandWater”,a bookthatmixesthebasicsandpractical aspectsofsoil,fertilizerandfarming.Les willcovertheshippingandGSTforGrainews readers.Simplysendachequefor$50toHenry Perspectives,143TuckerCres,Saskatoon, SK,S7H3H7,andhewilldispatchasigned bookposte-haste

About the author

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Les Henry

J.L.(Les) Henry is a former professor and extension specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. He farms at Dundurn, Sask. He recently finished a second printing of “Henry’s Handbook of Soil and Water,” a book that mixes the basics and practical aspects of soil, fertilizer and farming. Les will cover the shipping and GST for “Grainews” readers. Simply send a cheque for $50 to Henry Perspectives, 143 Tucker Cres., Saskatoon, Sask., S7H 3H7, and he will dispatch a signed book.

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