Prairie spring flooding concerns muted, for now

CNS Canada — Spring flooding doesn’t appear to be a major concern for any of the three Prairie provinces at this point, with a few exceptions, said provincial officials.

Manitoba dodged a bullet March 31 when a major storm dumped heavy precipitation on parts of North Dakota and Minnesota. If the system had travelled a few hundred kilometres north, Manitoba’s Red and Assiniboine river basins would have been severely impacted and the overall outlook might have changed, said CWB crop and weather specialist Bruce Burnett.

At the same time, cooler-than-normal temperatures should slightly delay spring seeding, he said.

Drier conditions are expected for the eastern Prairies in the coming days, he adds, which should allow snowmelt to work itself into the soil nicely.

Burnett said he expects a large degree of melting to take place over the next couple of weeks. “The unknown variable right now is the amount of rain or snow we get between now and the height of the melt.”

According to Manitoba’s latest spring flood outlook, one of the few worry spots right now is The Pas, on the northwestern edge of the province’s crop-growing regions.

Heavy snowfall over the past winter and above-normal soil moisture have increased the prospects for greater-than-normal runoff around the community.

The town’s chief administrative officer, Randi Salamanowicz, said locals are keenly watching the situation but no one seems overly worried at this point. “We’re just making sure we have our plans in place, we haven’t ordered a sandbagging machine.”

Any potential ice jams on the Saskatchewan River could change that, she added.

Average to above-average flows are expected on the North and South Saskatchewan rivers this spring, according to the minister responsible for Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency.

“There is an area of concern around Prince Albert,” Ken Cheveldayoff said. Last year the city saw flooding both to its north and south, much of it in April after spring rains swelled closed water basins, south of the city, causing them to overflow.

It’s a scenario Cheveldayoff said the province hopes to avoid this year, although he notes some of those high water levels have stuck around.

In Alberta the potential flood scenario is hard to predict. Forecasts are rain-driven, while mountain runoff, soil moisture and ice jams only add to the list of factors to consider, said Carrie Sancartier, a spokeswoman for Alberta Environment.

“We typically can only predict two to three days in advance.”

Alberta’s rainy season is mid-May to mid-July, so any significant river-related flooding wouldn’t normally happen until later.

Areas around Peace River and Fort McMurray are under the microscope right now, she says, because of their potential for ice jams.

Any major blockages in the Peace River or Athabasca River could cause significant flooding, she said.

— Dave Sims writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.


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