Guenther: In dry SW Sask., past flood damage still lingers

Four years later, rancher Eric Lawrence is still feeling the effects of the Maple Creek flood.

On June 17 and 18, 2010, a severe rainstorm dropped about 100 mm in Maple Creek, which hugs the north side of the Cypress Hills in southwestern Saskatchewan.

The rain fell on the heels of the wettest May and June local residents could remember, Lawrence told reporters visiting his farm. “Everything was just at a peak.”

GRAINEWS VIDEO: Ranchers still at the mercy of the weather

A record flood wreaked havoc in the town of Maple Creek and the surrounding rural area. A section of the nearby Trans-Canada Highway was also washed out.

The Lawrence ranch, about 15 km south of Maple Creek, didn’t escape damage. Gap Creek, which usually winds lazily through the Lawrence ranch, overran its banks.

“It left a lot of downed fence and wash banks where we didn’t expect it to wash. I lost some cultivated land through it,” said Lawrence.

The flood also “created a lot of work to clean up,” he said. Despite time spent clearing debris, barbed wire kept emerging from the creek area, creating a hazard for livestock. A horse became tangled in a snarl of wire after the flood and had to be put down.

Lawrence said the flood damage also changed his way of thinking. “Before I put a fence in, in any of the creek bottom, now I think ‘Do I really need it? Or can I get by without it?'”

Lawrence added he tries to get by with fewer strands of wire in the creek bottom, to cut the cleanup after future floods.

Dry spring drops hay production

Gap Creek’s single year of destruction is more than offset by decades of benefit to the ranch. Lawrence said the creek serves as a water source, shelters livestock in the winter and provides pasture in dry years.

“Without that, if you just had all these bare hills, you wouldn’t have near the productivity that we have now,” said Lawrence.

And this year Lawrence is likely grateful for the extra pasture provided by the creek bottom. Combined precipitation for April and May in Maple Creek totaled less than 40 mm, Environment Canada reports — well below the 30-year average of 72 mm.

June showers only dropped 58.2 mm this year, while average precipitation hits 76.5 mm.

Lawrence told reporters he was looking for hay, as “it looks like we may have very little hay to put up.

“We just need a good soaker for our hayland,” said Lawrence. “And our grazing, too, for that matter.”

— Lisa Guenther is a field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask. Follow her at @LtoG on Twitter.

 

Eric Lawrence shows reporters some of the debris left by the 2010 flood that hit his ranch in the Maple Creek area. (Lisa Guenther photo)

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