Longer summers, shorter winters, less water

In our latest newsletter, we delve into how Manitobans are coping with a devastating drought and the impact the climate crisis is poised to have on Canada's food systems

Summers are no longer a simple respite from long Canadian winters. They now mean facing the new horrors of climate change. Tragedies such as the wildfires engulfing the continent are an annual fixture in the news, but Manitoba is currently experiencing a threat that is less-seen but no less dangerous — a devastating and relentless drought.

The Prairies have long struggled with seasonal water shortages but the climate crisis is amplifying the impact of droughts.

“These droughts occurred in the past because of some natural climate processes, some climate patterns that diverted the water to other parts of North America,” Dave Sauchyn, the director of the University of Regina’s Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative, told The Narwhal for a recent on-the-ground feature by contributor Sarah Lawryniuk.

“But they are now occurring in a warming climate where there is more water loss… Our summers are getting longer, our winters are getting shorter. And so there are more days in which we’re losing water each year. And so when we have a combination of a lack of precipitation, and more days of water loss, you can expect that in a warming climate, the droughts have greater impact and severity.”

The Canadian Drought Monitor has deemed all of southern Manitoba to be under varying degrees of drought. Large portions of the province are under an exceptional drought — the most severe category.

This has been disastrous for farmers like Tom and Cam Johnson, a father and son duo who run a farm in Oak Point, Man. They’re smack dab in the middle of a region experiencing some of the worst drought conditions in Manitoba’s recent history. 

Photo: Aaron Vincent Elkaim / The Narwhal

“It was hard enough before — just farming in general. It was tough to make a living out of it. But then you throw this on top, it’s pretty near impossible,” Cam said.

The Johnsons have had to scramble to adapt to the exceptionally dry conditions, such as constructing makeshift troughs for their cows since water in lowlands and ditches has disappeared — and water troughs are sold out across the province.

This situation is worrying not just for farmers like the Johnsons, but for all Canadians. More than 80 per cent of Canada’s agricultural lands are in the Prairies, meaning that changes to the climate there have the potential to destabilize food security.

It’s a bleak look at what’s to come if nothing is done to address these worsening drought conditions. Provincial and federal governments are promising aid, but for some ranchers it’s already too late. For others, they can only wait and pray for rain. 

Take care and conserve water,

Josie Kao
Assistant editor

We’re hiring!

Mickenzie Plemel-Stronks looks out onto grassland from a car

As The Narwhal expands its pod on the Prairies, we’re looking for a talented and motivated reporter to join our team.

Location: Anywhere in Alberta or Saskatchewan
Hours: Full time (37.5 hours a week, with flexibility)
Salary: $60,000-$70,000
Type: Full-time permanent
Deadline: Aug. 15, 2021

Read more about the position and application details here.

The Narwhal in the world

Ever since the pandemic put a halt to in-person activities, our reporters have been itching to get back into the field. Last week, northern B.C. reporter Matt Simmons was able to do just that when he got sent off to Haida Gwaii to learn about endangered goshawks — you can listen to an adorable but very irritated juvenile goshawk Matt recorded here! Since then, he’s been brimming with excitement about these marvelous birds. 

We’re excited to bring you more about the work being done to better understand and protect this population of super-elusive and genetically unique goshawks in the coming weeks. So keep your eyes peeled for Matt’s upcoming story. If you want to support our in-depth, on-the-ground journalism (and see more of Matt looking happy in the wild), become a monthly member today for any amount you can afford.

This week in The Narwhal

7 years after Mount Polley disaster, B.C. faces another mining boom — and regulations still fall short

the image of two men are reflected in muddy water

By Brishti Basu

On Aug. 4, 2014, a dam holding contaminated waste failed, causing one of the worst mining disasters in Canadian history. Despite repeated promises from the province to avoid a similar disaster, communities remain at risk and on the hook for the costs of mine pollution, according to experts. Read more

Trudeau offers $5.2 billion bailout for Newfoundland and Labrador’s beleaguered Muskrat Falls hydro dam

muskrat falls dam at night

By John Woodside

Ahead of a likely federal election, the Liberals committed to covering the vast majority of cost overruns for the controversial $13.1 billion megaproject, which has faced staunch opposition from local Indigenous communities and environmental organizations. Read more.

Meet Safeena Dhalla, The Narwhal’s new director of operations and impact

Safeena Dhalla posing outside

By Josie Kao

Safeena is ready to fight for systemic change and bring The Narwhal to the next level. We couldn’t be more excited. Read more

What we’re reading

Globe and Mail article: The climate refugees are coming. Countries and international law aren’t ready for them

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We’re tripling our Prairies coverage
The Narwhal’s newly minted Prairies bureau is here to bring you stories on energy and the environment you won’t find anywhere else. Stay tapped in by signing up for a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism.