Low snow means trouble for Canada Prairies: expert

Thu May 27, 2010 12:50pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Alarmingly low snow levels in the Rocky Mountains will cut water supplies to Canada's Prairies and could help trigger a river drought in the important farming region, a leading expert said on Thursday.

The predictions by University of Saskatchewan hydrologist John Pomeroy were particularly gloomy, given that 2009-2010 was a record dry winter for the western Prairies.

"It's clear that we have serious problems and will have more serious problems in the future," Pomeroy said in a presentation at Parliament in Ottawa.

The three Prairie provinces produce most of the country's grain and cattle. Canada is the world's sixth largest producer of wheat and third-biggest grower of canola, a variant of rapeseed.

After severe drought in parts of Saskatchewan and Alberta last year, many farms have seen too much moisture this spring, setting back planting in both provinces.

But parts of the region depend heavily on rivers that extend across the Prairies, fed by snow, rain, glaciers and lakes in the mountains.

"There is a severe drought in the western mountains and if it carries on it will be a river drought extending across the Prairies," said Pomeroy, a specialist in both Prairie droughts and predicting snow changes in the Rockies.

The scientist said he had visited a research site some 900 meters (2,950 feet) up a mountain in the Alberta Rockies this week to check for snow.   Continued...