Farmers along the Assiniboine River from the Shellmouth Dam to St. Lazare are calling for compensation as the province begins to increase water flow from the Shellmouth Reservoir.
Stan Cochrane, who farms near Griswold, told the Keystone Agricultural Producers advisory meeting here April 21 that affected farmers won’t be reimbursed for damages from the province’s actions which will flood tens of thousands of acres.
“What I am asking today is that KAP support some kind of program to pay these people,” said Cochrane, who is president of the Assiniboine Valley Producers Association. “I don’t think it’s fair that these people thought two weeks ago they were going to seed a crop and they bought the seed and fertilizer and they can’t use it now.”
The Manitoba government decided to release more water because with rising levels it would soon run over the dam’s spillway, he said. He and other producers in the area feel the province has waited too long.
Earlier in the year they were urging provincial officials to lower the water level of the reservoir, because they feared the spring melt would see a surge of water come from Saskatchewan. Cochrane says the timing of provincial actions resulted in the problem producers are facing and also just happened to negate the possibility of provincial compensation.
“If we had let water out three weeks ago, when there was 1,200 cubic feet per second coming into the dam and we let out 2,500, then it would have been an artificial flood and the government would have had to pay those people,”Cochrane said. “Today there’s 10,000 CFS coming into the dam and we are going to let out 3,000 and those people aren’t qualified to get one cent.”
The Manitoba government issued a press release April 21 announcing that as of April 22 the outflow of 1,900 CFS from the Shellmouth Reservoir would be increased to 3,000 in two stages.
“This will result in a water level increase of about two to three feet between the Shellmouth Dam and St. Lazare,” the release said. “This may be affected by other streams that flow into the Assiniboine River downstream of the dam. The higher outflows will result in some overbank flooding along the upper Assiniboine River and will result in some flooding of agricultural land between the reservoir and St. Lazare.”
Had the dam not been there the flooding would be worse, according to the release, with flows of around 10,300 CFS.
Cochrane said he expects high water between the dam and St. Lazare for three to four weeks and doubts the flooded farmers will be able seed.
“You can’t start flooding the land May 1 and expect they are going to do much seeding unless it’s mid June or something,” he said.
There have been previous efforts to compensate Assiniboine Valley farmers for lost production due to flooding, but any compensation paid fell short of covering the losses, Cochrane said.
One proposal was to provide spot-loss crop insurance coverage. Crop insurance payouts are triggered when a farmer’s average yield for a crop falls below coverage. If a farmer lost a field of wheat due to flooding but harvested a bumper crop from other fields a payment might not be triggered.
The current system seems to be designed not to compensate flooded farmers, Cochrane said.
More water is coming from Saskatchewan than there used to be and Cochrane suspects it’s due unregulated drainage.
“I’ve heard, but I don’t know how accurate it is, they drained another 80,000 acres this winter,” he said.
The Shellmouth Reservoir needs to be better operated, he said.
“I think we’ve finally got consensus in the group — maybe it’s because we have a change of government — that everybody is prepared to work together to try and lobby government to do something because we can’t operate the dam the way it is,” Cochrane said. “It doesn’t just jeopardize the farmland, it jeopardizes Brandon, Portage la Prairie, Winnipeg and everyone else.”