Prairies need a wa­ter and weather strat­egy

The Southwest Booster - - OPINION - RALPH GOODALE MEM­BER OF PAR­LIA­MENT FOR WAS­CANA

With so many people across a broad swath of Saskatchew­an and Man­i­toba grap­pling with the con­se­quences of heavy rains and sud­den sum­mer flood­ing, ev­ery­one’s at­ten­tion right now is riv­eted on help­ing those at risk, mit­i­gat­ing dam­ages, clean­ing up the mess, proper com­pen­sa­tion ar­range­ments, and then the long task of re­build­ing.

In typ­i­cal prairie fash­ion, all hands are will­ingly on deck to do what­ever is nec­es­sary to al­le­vi­ate the emer­gency and deal with its aftermath.

Not in­clud­ing the neg­a­tive eco­nomic im­pact of hav­ing thou­sands of hectares of farm­land out-of­pro­duc­tion and a large por­tion of the oil patch in­ac­ces­si­ble, Pre­mier Wall is es­ti­mat­ing out-of-pocket costs in Saskatchew­an far ex­ceed­ing $360-mil­lion. He has asked the federal govern­ment for a $100-mil­lion “cash ad­vance”, to help speed com­pen­sa­tion pay­ments to vic­tims.

The Feds need to get that cash flow­ing quickly, just as Cana­dian mil­i­tary per­son­nel were put into ac­tion quickly in Man­i­toba when Pre­mier Selinger asked for help in strength­en­ing dikes along the Assini­boine River. Much more will be re­quired in both prov­inces, but as­sis­tance ef­forts are un­der­way.

For the longer term, many people are won­der­ing whether we have to be as vul­ner­a­ble to such wa­ter and weather-re­lated dam­ages as we seem to be.

Saskatchew­an faced a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion with storms and floods in 2011. Last year there was mas­sive dev­as­ta­tion caused by ram­pag­ing wa­ters in Cal­gary and across south­ern Al­berta. And it wasn’t that long ago that the prob­lem was the op­po­site — i.e., ex­treme drought con­di­tions caus­ing hard­ship. Whether it’s too much or too lit­tle, noth­ing stirs more prairie ag­i­ta­tion than wa­ter.

It’s in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for the skep­tics to dis­miss the recurring re­al­ity of far more fre­quent and ex­treme weather events. Some prov­inces, many mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, a num­ber of im­por­tant play­ers in the pri­vate sec­tor and a large per­cent­age of Cana­di­ans agree that some form of “cli­mate change” is real and must be treated se­ri­ously. Only the federal govern­ment re­mains in de­nial.

But with­out wad­ing too deeply into that is­sue right now, as im­por­tant as it is, what should gov­ern­ments have on their agen­das im­me­di­ately to re­duce fu­ture risks and mit­i­gate losses?

The Saskatchew­an govern­ment is talk­ing about some bet­ter way of han­dling unau­tho­rized on-farm drainage that ul­ti­mately flows cross-coun­try. We’ll see what comes of that. What else?

At the federal level, the Dop­pler weather radar sys­tem is now old tech­nol­ogy. It’s prone to fail­ure, like the Dop­pler sta­tion at Bethune which has had chronic prob­lems for the last four years. Also, the net­work of sta­tions is too sparse. And there is no com­pre­hen­sive way to push out vi­tal warn­ings to the gen­eral pub­lic. This could be much im­proved.

And what about emer­gency plan­ning, train­ing and over­all pre­pared­ness? Federal budget cuts ended a long-stand­ing pro­gram which lo­cal gov­ern­ments had re­lied upon for years to help get them­selves ready to cope with nat­u­ral dis­as­ters and other emer­gen­cies. This could be re-ex­am­ined.

The loss of PFRA should also be re­con­sid­ered. Over the past five years, the federal govern­ment dis­man­tled the his­toric Prairie Farm Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion which, since the Dirty 30s, pro­vided the best western ex­per­tise in wa­ter and soil con­ser­va­tion and man­age­ment. PFRA also ran com­mu­nity pas­tures, op­er­ated a prairie tree farm and pro­vided world­class flood preven­tion and con­trol mea­sures.

And on an­other front, federal in­fra­struc­ture pro­gram­ming has been re­duced, de­layed and made more dif­fi­cult to ac­cess. This year’s fund­ing for the flag­ship “Build­ing Canada Fund” has been cut by 87 per cent and won’t get back to last year’s level un­til af­ter 2019. There could be much more pri­or­ity given to ur­gent trans­for­ma­tive in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ments that will help an­tic­i­pate and with­stand recurring se­vere weather and wa­ter dis­rup­tions.

Where do things like this rank on YOUR list of pub­lic pol­icy pri­or­i­ties?

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