Saskatoon

Sask. farmers could be left high and dry by climate change, warns expert

One expert at the University of Saskatchewan says the province should begin paying attention to the effects of climate change as it relates to the water supply or risk leaving farmers high and dry.

John Pomeroy says it's time to carefully study future water needs

As temperatures rise in Saskatchewan, farmers may struggle to find the water they need for irrigation, says John Pomeroy, director of the Global Water Futures program at the University of Saskatchewan. (Grain Millers/Facebook)

One expert at the University of Saskatchewan says this province should begin paying attention to the effects of climate change as it relates to the water supply or risk leaving farmers high and dry.

John Pomeroy, director of the Global Water Futures program at the U of S, said there are changes happening with the snowpack in the mountains that could lead to an earlier melt, feeding the South Saskatchewan River system before it's needed.

"Right now the peak inflows to Lake Diefenbaker, for instance, are in May and June.… That's perfect when you want to irrigate over June and July," said Pomeroy. "But if it's coming in in April or even March, then that becomes more of a problem."

It's a problem, Pomeroy said, because Saskatchewan may not have the infrastructure needed to store water until farmers need it the most.

'The interest in irrigation in Saskatchewan may well increase as temperatures continue to increase.' - John Pomeroy, director, Global Water Futures

"The first question is can we get more bang for our buck out of the existing facilities by upgrading them, changing spillways, changing the hydroelectric capacity, things like that."

The snowpack in the Rocky Mountains may be melting faster than normal, and Saskatchewan may not have enough storage capacity. (Pat Fogg/CBC)
There is snow in the Rockies this year, and that means the rivers will be swollen come spring. That's good news for farmers, except that the peak of the runoff may come a little early. John Pomeroy is the director of the Global Water Futures program at the University of Saskatchewan. He spoke with Saskatoon Morning's Jennifer Quesnel. 8:13

Food prices likely to rise

Pomeroy believes Saskatchewan's ability to store water will become more important as temperatures rise and farmers suffer through long periods of drought driven by climate change.

"The interest in irrigation in Saskatchewan may well increase as temperatures continue to increase and longer summers come. And the prices of food, because of climate disasters around the world, will almost certainly tend to increase."

Pomeroy said that if existing dams and reservoirs prove insufficient to store water and meet the demands of farmers in Saskatchewan, new ones will have to be built.  

With files from Saskatoon Morning