Manitoba's minister of Infrastructure and Emergency Measures saw first-hand the severe drought situation in Southern Manitoba during a tour of the region on Saturday.
The tour took Minister Ron Schuler to the Red River at Letellier before moving on to Lake Minnewasta in Morden, with stops at the Winkler water treatment plant and Carman as well. He was accompanied by local MLAs Cameron Friesen for Morden-Winkler, Blaine Pedersen for Midland and Josh Guenter for Borderland, as well as municipal officials and representatives from the Pembina Vally Water Co-op and from various provincial departments.
"We as a province are facing an epic drought...all the way through to the Interlake," said Schuler, noting Lake Manitoba alone has dropped by half a foot in the last month, and another four inches in the last week. "We are facing a very dry event. Our government is aware of it...we are talking about what we can do to help the situation."
According to Schuler, Manitoba is experiencing a 1 in 700-year drought, adding you'd have to go back to 1934/35 to find similarly historic lows as what is currently being recorded on the Red River. Since July 23rd, flows have declined another 368 cubic feet per second (cfs) down to 384 cfs as of last week Thursday, and the river has dropped another 11.9 inches. Since June 25th, the Red has gone down a total of 32.3 inches.
"It's all tied together," said Schuler. "It's very important to look at what's happening here at the Red River, at the source."
After touring Lake Minnewasta, the Minister noted how this is truly a provincial issue.
"What it basically indicates to us as Government is this isn't localized," said Schuler. "We know, for instance, Lake Manitoba, which is a very big concern of ours, lost half a foot in one month, and last week it lost four inches. It's not just Lake Manitoba, it's not just the Interlake, it's also this region. We've got to look for the next twelve months, maybe the next eighteen months. We're not to sure how long this drought will last, and we have to prepare ourselves. We've got to get stuff in place to be ready, not just for now, but also for next Spring."
The Minister affirmed the Government's support as municipalities continue to weather the situation, noting local officials are on top of it and showing "amazing leadership".
"They've got amazing ideas and plans, and the Government of Manitoba will always backstop," said Schuler. "We're going to be there behind them wherever we can, to do what we need to do, to ensure we always have water for drinking, cooking and those important things we need to sustain life."
Pembina Valley Water Co-op C.E.O, Greg Archibald, used Schuler's tour to highlight a number of priorities where the government can lend its support, specifically the urgent need to address the Letellier and Morris water treatment plant intakes, as well as Red River storage and the Morden water supply.
"With this visit, we wanted to create an understanding, and enlist support from the Provincial government, and I'd say we were very successful, I was very pleased," said Archibald.
"It looks like he's got some really good ideas," noted Schuler. "It does involve some provincial participation, and we'll see where we can make sure that we, for instance, expedite permits and that kind of stuff. I've made myself available to (Archibald) and to the R.M.s."
Meanwhile, Morden Mayor Brandon Burley was thankful for the group taking the time to see the situation at Lake Minnewasta personally and is optimistic solutions will be found for the community's current water supply issues.
"We are very aggressively pursuing resourcing and the ability to continue to provide water to the region through the winter," noted Burley while the tour was on the shores of Lake Minnewasta. "That winter water supply really, right now, is what's essential and what's emergent for us, as well as for the entire region. At this point we're in a situation where it's not us or them, it's us all... and the City of Morden is going to play our part in getting the Pembina Valley through this hardship."
During the tour's stop at Winkler's reverse osmosis water treatment plant, Mayor Martin Harder took the opportunity to pitch the City's desire to double the treatment capacity of the facility.
"To be able to double the size of this capacity of this facility would totally help alleviate the issues Morden is facing right now with (Lake) Minnewasta, and play a long-term role into providing drinkable water for the Pembina Valley Water Co-op, including the Boundary Trails Health Centre, so it's a win-win all the way around."