Driest spring in 50 years sparks drought fears in Edmonton region
BY MICHELLE LEPAGE AND SHEILA PRATT, EDMONTON JOURNAL JUNE 12, 2015
EDMONTON - The Edmonton region is experiencing its driest spring in 50 years, sparking worries of a possible drought.
Before Thursday evening’s rainstorm, only 20 millimetres of precipitation had fallen since April 1, far below the levels of 90 to 95 mm usually seen at the Edmonton International Airport weather station.
St. Albert fared little better, with 26 mm of rain in the same period, though Elk Island Park received 63 mm, said Alberta Agriculture soil moisture specialist Ralph Wright.
“It’s very dry,” but things can change quickly and there’s more rain forecast for this week, said Wright.
The wettest weeks in northern Alberta are usually from mid-June to mid-July, so there’s time to reverse the dry conditions, he added
Meanwhile, in some rural areas, especially eastern Alberta, Agriculture Canada said “moderate drought” conditions already exist, creating dry pasture and problems for livestock.
“We are certainly in a drought in the eastern edge of the province from Edmonton toward Lloydminster down to Medicine Hat and over toward Calgary,” agro-climate specialist Trevor Hadwen said from Regina.
“The biggest impact right now is livestock. Pasture and forage growth has been very poor in this area.”
Early seeded crops are doing OK, said Hadwen, and if rain falls in the next two weeks, crops waiting to germinate will be OK.
Environment Canada climatologist Dave Phillips said Alberta needs a “rescue” rain — the type of constant, miserable rain that lasts a full week.
“The situation is not good,” Phillips said. “You need (the weather) to turn right around and nothing seems to suggest that’s going to be the case over the next few months.”
Currently, 35 wildfires are burning in the province, including a 3,500-hectare wild fire near Jasper Park that burned 164 hectares into the park. The fire hazard remains high because of the dry weather, said Alberta Environment.
Low rainfall is just part of the problem. Soil moisture levels in the Edmonton area are the lowest in 25 years, said Wright.
“That means we don’t have much capacity to withstand hot, dry weather,” he said. “Our bank account is depleted.”
The dry conditions are already taking a toll on trees in the city.
High populations of dry-weather insects, such as aphids, arrived earlier than normal, putting trees under stress, said urban forestry management supervisor Jeannette Wheeler.
With 330,000 trees in Edmonton, the city can’t water them all.
“If people want to water boulevard trees or trees in a green space, that would be great,” she said. “Give it a good soak.”
The water needs to go 45 centimetres into the ground.
In the past 10 months, the Edmonton area had fairly normal levels of precipitation until April — that’s when the dry period started, said Wright.
This past winter, snow accumulation was “fairly normal,” leaving heathy size snow packs that feed rivers such as the North Saskatchewan, he said.
The recent dry spell has not affected the river, said an Alberta Environment spokesperson.
Nor has the dry weather hurt Epcor’s water reservoirs.
“Between the two water treatment plants and our reservoirs, we have enough water to meet demand,” said spokesperson Tim LeRiche, who does not expect to implement formal water conservation efforts this summer despite the dry weather.
“Hypothetically, if there was a significantly long drought ... then we have protocols in place,” LeRiche said.
“First, we move to a call for voluntary conservation. We’re nowhere near that.”
Alberta Agriculture spokesman Mike Long said while the weather is dry, it is early in the season.
“There is still opportunity to get more moisture and it can have a very positive impact and reverse the conditions,” he said.
Phillips also said a lot depends on the next couple of weeks.
“I wasn’t so concerned in May when I saw the numbers,” said Phillips. “Now, it’s getting to the point where we are halfway through June and the monsoon rains haven’t started yet. If this continues there’s no question about it, the D-word will be used.”