The potential for another dry year is a growing concern across the Prairies. 

 El Niño has produced a warm, dry winter with more than 70 per cent of the country experiencing drought conditions. 

Alberta has contracted WaterSMART Solutions to enhance drought modeling and explore ways to make the best use of Alberta’s water. 

A significant part of the prairies rely on rain and melting snow from the Rocky Mountains for water, including the South Saskatchewan River. 

Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation Minister R.J. Sigurdson says for the last three years droughts and water shortages have been a key issue for farmers and ranchers. 

"That's why the province is talking more and more about the importance of expanding and modernizing our irrigation districts here in the province of Alberta. And that's why we designated the $933 million for our irrigation rehabilitation program, but we also are looking at continuing to provide strength behind our business risk management programs.” 

So far, this winter, snowfall is well below average, with many rivers at or near record lows. 

In Alberta, multiple reservoirs remain well below capacity, as of Jan. 15, reservoir storage is at 28 per cent, while normal storage at this time of year is 62 to 79 per cent. 

Sigurdson says they’ve been making progress on expanding irrigation in the province. 

“There's been a lot of projects that have been happening and these projects are across all of our irrigation districts, I would say that of those projects, we're probably sitting at about 80% or higher complete with other projects that are ongoing.” 

The province is closely monitoring snowpack, rainfall, river levels, and water use throughout the province to develop early warning capacity and understand how much water will be available this year. 

Sigurdson notes his department has also been working to strengthen the Business Risk Management programs including changes to Moisture Deficiency Insurance (MDI) program. 

“We heard from producers that the money didn't get out quick enough. So, of course, MDI now is paid out on a monthly basis in response to that feedback that we heard. We continue to strengthen our pumping programs, our drilling programs, and as well this year we were happy to get an Ag Recovery program in place for some of our livestock.” 

In 2023, MDI paid out $326 million to producers experiencing dry conditions. 

For 2024.MDI will also include extreme temperatures, producers have until February 29th to enroll in the program. 

More information on the Moisture Deficiency Insurance program can be found here.

To hear Glenda-Lee's conversation with Agriculture and Irrigation Minister R.J. Sigurdson click on the link below.