Global warming amplifying flood, drought conditions in Sask., Assiniboine Basin conference hears

Saskatchewan can expect the current swing between flooding and drought conditions to continue or even worsen due to climate change, according to a professor at the University of Regina.

'The swings seem to be getting larger,' U of Regina prof Dave Sauchyn tells water management conference

Dave Sauchyn, a geography professor at the University of Regina, said global warming is amplifying the precipitation variability in Saskatchewan. (Micki Cowan/CBC)

Saskatchewan can expect the current swing between flooding and drought conditions to continue or even worsen due to climate change, according to a professor at the University of Regina. 

Dave Sauchyn, a professor in the university's geography and environmental studies department, spoke about the province's water variations at the annual conference for the Assiniboine River Basin Initiative on Wednesday.

"We've always dealt with these swings, but the swings seem to be getting larger as a result of warming up the world," he said. 

Conference attendees were discussing how water management decisions in the basin, which includes parts of Saskatchewan, North Dakota and Manitoba, can affect those down the line. 

Saskatchewan's waterways flow into North Dakota and Manitoba. 

The Assiniboine River Basin consists of three sub-basins, and stretches across two provinces and one state. (Government of Canada)

Sauchyn said Saskatchewan already has one of the more variable climates on Earth, on par with Siberia. 

"Global warming is actually exaggerating or amplifying that variability," he said.

That increased fluctuation means there will be some much drier years and some much wetter years. 

The annual ARBI conference is being held in Regina in 2018. (Micki Cowan/CBC)

Saskatchewan Environment Minister Dustin Duncan, who was at the conference, said the government knows that a change in climate is affecting the basin and is projecting what that means for the availability of water in the future. 

In the past, Manitoba has blamed Saskatchewan's agricultural and wetland drainage for some of its flooding.

"We work with a number of jurisdictions when it comes to different water management issues, to ensure that the decisions that we're making as a province doesn't have a negative impact on others in the basin," Duncan said.  

Duncan said discussions are being held about building climate-resilient infrastructure — that which is able to withstand both having too much, and not enough, water.

"That is something that I think is very much top of mind for this conference and is for our ministry as well," he said.

The annual conference for the Assiniboine River Basin Initiative brings representatives together to discuss water management. (Micki Cowan/CBC)

Sauchyn said multiple solutions are being discussed, including the use of engineering and technology, but especially managing the natural landscape.

He said managing the landscape and wetlands to better store water naturally in times of plenty means water would be available to use in times of drought.

"We've been getting rid of wetlands at a fairly rapid rate over the last 100 years in order to farm the land. That makes sense economically, but we've really reduced the amount of natural storage on the landscape."

The conference continues Thursday in Regina.  

About the Author

Micki Cowan

Reporter/producer

Micki is a reporter and producer at CBC Vancouver. Her passions are municipal issues and water security.