Tim Berscheid is exhausted and his cattle could soon be hungry.
Flooding in and around his ranch in the Rural Municipality of Kelsey, near The Pas, have left 400 of his cattle stranded, reachable only by canoe. Berscheid has fed them the last of his accessible feed stock and he is now weighing the possibility of letting them forage a partially flooded cornfield.
“We use it for winter grazing normally, but we always graze that on frost, because the first thing the cows do when you give them a patch is they blow through the strip and eat all the cobs and knock it all down,” he said. “But if they are in water and mud, how is that going to work? We don’t know, and we don’t even know if it is safe with all the flooding and water damage, it might be too mouldy, but we have sent feed samples out to find out.”
But at best, that represents a short-term solution. What Berscheid really wants to see is an end to drainage practices that he believes unduly impact his land.
Berscheid and his wife Michelle have farmed in the area for nearly four decades and their struggles with excess water have become more dire with each passing year, he said.
“There was always the shell game about what’s happening and every time we were flooded we would be told that it’s just wet, it’s just a lot of rain on the Saskatchewan side — there was always an excuse, but you had to just keep digging,” said the rancher. Finally, after newly installed pumps failed to alleviate flooding on his property, he said he realized the problem was multi-faceted and required government intervention.
Illegal drainage, poor maintenance of culverts, failure to enforce existing regulations and self-interest among those charged with water management have all contributed to this fall’s flooding, Berscheid said.
Not so, according to RM of Kelsey reeve, Rod Berezowecki.
“It is absolutely not man-made flooding,” said the reeve. “There is no one organization or person you can point the finger at that is causing this, this is Mother Nature.”
He added that the area is traditionally moisture prone, even before it received three times what is considered normal rainfall over the last few months.
“We’ve had excessive, excessive rainfall this summer and a lot of rainfall and snow this fall, probably 30 inches,” Berezowecki said. “And we have been overwhelmed this year — it’s not just one farm that is experiencing issues, almost all of our producers in that area, cattle producers, are experiencing difficulties… and we are working with them all to keep the pumps going and keep the drains clear.”
There are a total of 10 pumps in the area, split between the Victor Jory and Main pumping stations.
“The pumps are running 24 hours a day seven days a week to drain the whole area so that everyone can get some relief,” Berezowecki said. “So it is a challenge, but hopefully the weather will co-operate and we can get some of this done.”
Berscheid doesn’t dispute that pumps are running 24 hours a day, but contends that some of those pumps are actually pumping water into the water system that is flooding his ranchland. One of the pumps at the Town Pumphouse has been down for the past month, while some culverts are blocked by sediment — a claim that appeared to be backed up by aerial footage shot in the area last week.
Berezowecki agrees that some water is being moved into the watershed affecting Berscheid’s farm, but said three times as much water is being moved out of the system as into it.
“It is a moot point really. It looks like it is a problem, but it isn’t,” he said.
Not surprisingly, Berscheid disagrees with that assessment.
While the pumps are operated using guidelines developed in part by a committee of members from the Pasquia Growers Association, the rancher said regulations were routinely ignored and had become increasingly lax over the years. And when Berscheid participated in a decision to shut the pumps off for 24 hours during a previous flood event, he said tempers rose along with the water.
“Afterwords I received death threats. Threats to me, to my cows, and to my family, that’s how nasty things got because the provincial government wouldn’t take its role on and do its job,” Berscheid said.
A spokesperson for Manitoba Agriculture said that “the province operates the pumping system in accordance with guidelines developed in consultation with local stakeholders. Ongoing operations are guided through regular interaction with a pumping committee that has representatives from local agricultural producer organizations, the RM and the provincial government.”
A livestock specialist from Manitoba Agriculture has also visited the stranded cattle and is working to assess the situation and offer assistance in determining feed quality and options.
“(They) found the cattle to be in good condition,” said the spokesperson in an emailed statement. “We’ve submitted a corn sample from a nearby field for analysis and expect results next week. We will also be providing a list of some lands where the cattle could be relocated. More generally, we are working with livestock producers in the area who have been affected by excess moisture on feeding, budgeting and marketing strategies.”
Additional support to affected producers will be provided by Manitoba Agriculture Services Corporation, they said.
The NDP’s Agriculture Critic Mohinder Saran raised the issue during question period last Wednesday, asking Infrastructure Minister Blaine Pedersen to address the flooding concerns.
Pedersen replied that “Manitoba Infrastructure is operating the pumps in accordance to the wishes of the local pumping committee, which is made up of the local producers in the Carrot River Valley.”
All that is of little comfort to Berscheid, who is still trying to figure out how to either feed or transport his cattle to another location.
“Let’s just say I haven’t quit smoking yet,” he said, adding he believes his land and some of his neighbours’ land is being sacrificed for those upstream. To add to his troubles, the flooding has also damaged the hay bales he had put up for winter feed.
Berezowecki said the municipality will analyze the current flooding situation this winter, in the hopes of coming up with a long-term solution.
“Right now the most important thing we need to focus on with the province is keeping all the pumps running through the whole area 24 hours a day so we can see some relief,” he said. “If we start shutting pumps down other people upstream start having problems, so we need to keep the whole area going.”