May 21st, 2024

Recent rainstorm welcome, but more rain and snow needed


By Delon Shurtz - Lethbridge Herald on May 9, 2024.

Herald photo by Al Beeber Two ducks follow along a flooded pathway at Indian Battle Park Wednesday morning as rain began to let up after a downpour Tuesday. Sunny skies will return today with a high of 18.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDdshurtz@lethbridgeherald.com

While some people might say enough with the rain already, David Westwood says bring it on.

The manager of the St. Mary River Irrigation District acknowledges the recent and heavy rainstorm may cause some issues with flooding, but that doesn’t outweigh the need for rain on the prairies and snow in the mountains. And despite the amount of water that has fallen, much more is still needed to fill the reservoirs.

“This is exactly what we need, but we need more of it,” Westwood says.

The problem, Westwood points out, is that last year was dry, which resulted in low snowpack and even lower reservoirs. While that means the reservoirs did their job providing water for irrigation and other uses, it’s going to take a lot of snow rain to refill them.

Most reservoirs in the district are only at about 50 per cent of what they should be, and the snowpack is lower than normal, as well, although Westwood hopes that while it was raining on the flatland, it was also snowing in the mountains.

“This is helping, but it’s not solving the whole problem.”

It also won’t increase the amount of water the SMRID can allocate to the 2,500 irrigators in the district. Irrigators have been allocated eight inches of water per acre, which is about half the amount available when there is a good supply of water. Westwood says the weather will determine if the allocation can be increased later in the year.

“Right now there’s no plans to change that.”

The real good news is the amount of moisture that has gone directly into the ground from recent snow and rain. It means that farmers won’t immediately have to draw as much water from the district.

“The general moisture is some of the best they’ve seen in many, many years to begin the season.”

In fact, it may be too good. Fields in many areas are actually flooding, and some farmers, especially those who have already seeded, may have to pump the water out of their fields, although warmer temperatures expected over the next few days may help get rid of some of the standing water and help the seeds germinate.

Westwood says that while moisture conditions look good in the short term, it’s too early to predict long-term conditions, which will depend on the weather and how hot it gets.

It’s also fortunate that the recent rainstorm was widespread, and covered the entire district between Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. Rainstorms in southern Alberta are typically localized and only benefit a few farmers and ranchers at a time.

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