Many people have been led to believe that the flooding of the Quill Lakes has been caused solely by the local agricultural activities.
In reality, agriculture has struggled with extreme multi-year flood events, without the luxury of a natural outlet for the disposal of excess water.
Management of these extremes is a necessity for the viability and survival of the industry, and the Long-term economy of the province.
It is crucial, as society struggles to find the right balance for Canadian landscapes, that everyone has a clear understanding of the different environmental and economic impacts when forming opinions, and when making policy.
QLWA February 2018
This document analyzes a combination of weather related history, recorded lake inflows, and lake level recordings since the Quill Lakes Flood started in 2005. When observed together, it fully illustrates the events and results of the extreme prolonged weather that contributed to the Quill Lakes Flood.
Beginning in 2005
The rise in the Quill Lakes started back in 2005 when storms and flooding had affected much of the prairies.
Alberta suffered flooding and “about 40 municipalities identified infrastructure damage and fourteen declared official states of emergency [in that province]. Four people lost their lives – two when they were swept away by turbulent waters and two others when vehicles plunged into swollen rivers… Hydrologists estimated the flooding as a 1-in-200-year occurrence.” 1
Manitoba suffered the “Worst Widespread Flooding Ever,”2 and even in Saskatchewan a massive storm swept through the province “leaving a trail of broken branches, toppled telephone poles and sodden fields. In Saskatoon, over 50 mm of rain fell in 24 hours. In LeRoy, about 120 km east of Saskatoon, more than 175 mm of rain transformed the normally placid creek into a wide river that washed out footbridges on a golf course and swept away crops that were swathed but not yet picked up.”3
This season marked the beginning of the Quill Lakes Flood. There were an estimated 235,000,000 cubic meters of annual runoff.4 For most of recorded history, the average normal runoff, to the Quills is about a hundred million cubic meters per year. Average increases in elevation are rarely above a half a meter per year. In 2005, inflows (less evaporation) added about 30 cm of rise on Quill Lakes from summer and fall rains. High humidity levels caused a reducing of gains from normal evaporation.
In 2006 the wild weather continued with Canada’s top weather stories that include that of “Prairie Hailers and a deadly Twister”.5
According to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) “Weather forecasters and storm chasers had a hectic but exciting summer across the West. The summer storm season started and ended quietly, but from mid-June through mid-August there were only 17 days that did not have severe weather happening somewhere on the Prairies. For four days of the summer, there was severe weather happening in all three provinces.”5
It is during this time where the Quill Lakes inflows exceeded 535,000,000 cubic meters4, (over 5.5 times normal runoff). This due to above average soil saturation from 2005, and moderate to heavy frequent extreme rainfall events throughout the year. Thus the Quill Lakes rose almost 1.25 meters.
In 2007 there were times where the west had almost too much weather news. According to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), “Residents on the Prairies witnessed a record number of severe summer weather warnings, with tornadoes, intense rainfalls, wind storms and hail storms…Crop-hail losses approached $200 million and, for the first time, exceeded premiums. There was also an enduring high humidity on the Prairies that became unbearable and suffocating. This also culminated in a new Canadian record humidex of 53 being set at Carman, Manitoba.”6
Other major weather related stories that made the ECCC’s top stories for the year included headlines such as “Tropical Summer on the Prairies”7, “Record Prairie Hailers”8, and “Some of the Worst Prairie Flooding Ever”.
Quill Lakes Inflow exceeded 450,000,000 cubic meters4, 4.5 times normal runoff. The Quill Lakes rose almost 1.25 meters. Note: The high humidity levels of a wet year likely reduced evaporation rates.
In 2008 the headlines continue with yet another story making the top 10 on the ECCC’s annual top weather stories list entitled Hail of a Summer for Growers10.
“Hail insurance payouts to Saskatchewan growers were the highest in history, at approximately $228 million, for a loss-to-premium ratio of 129 per cent. Nearly 21,000 claims were filed – 7,000 more than last year. The acreage affected was also a record. On virtually every day in July, hail occurred somewhere in Saskatchewan. Massive storms on July 9 and 10 pounded many of the same areas. Claims from those two days alone were estimated at $80 million.”
The inflow to the lakes this year was recorded to be about 180,000,000 cubic meters, only slightly less than double normal runoff. Do note that even with almost double the normal runoff, the Quill Lakes show only small increase in overall lake levels. Producers are still hampered by weather related losses.
In 2009 there seemed to be a welcomed pause in the overly active weather events that had been occurring in the years past, however, it wasn’t long-lived, or all that ‘normal’ either. According to Canada’s climate change experts, the seasons were “out of whack across the country, with new records, or near new records set in every region”11
In Saskatchewan in particular, the summer had been mostly dry, and drought like, however by the middle of August a slow-moving pressure system put an end to that leaving behind record amounts of rain. “The hamlet of Parry, about 90 km east of Assiniboia, recorded 147 mm of rain. In Saskatoon, 51.5 mm of rain fell on August 15 – the wettest August day in Saskatoon since 1945. Over three days, the city received 70.5 mm which is almost twice the normal August total.”12
Fall rain had wiped out almost all of the reductions in Lake Levels due to fairly dry summer and contributed to a wet fall saturation of the landscape. This had also contributed to the high runoff in 2010. This year there was 164,000,000 cubic meters of inflow, 4 still above average runoff, however still only a slight dropping of the lake levels.
The dry weather seen in the early summer months of 2009 was no match for the frequent severe weather to be seen in the spring and summer of 2010 in Saskatchewan. Frequent intense storms had “led to extreme flooding and record property losses.” 13
An excerpt from Canada’s third top weather story of the year, From Dry to Drenched on the Prairies, goes into detail of how ‘unbelievable’ the amount of rainfall totals really were:
“In Saskatchewan, growing season rainfall totals were unbelievable in places – none more incredible than at Saskatoon where the total April-to-September precipitation was 645 mm. The previous wettest period was in 1923, when 420 mm fell, making 2010 an astounding 54 per cent wetter than the record with observations dating back to 1892. Rosetown also had the wettest April-to-August period on record with double the norm. Regina’s total rainfall was 517 mm compared to a normal of 287 mm, which beat the record wettest growing season of 503 mm set in 1954 (records date back to 1883). Along with the rain, it experienced five consecutive months of cooler than normal temperatures. Not to be outdone, Winnipeg recorded its wettest growing season ever at 630.5 mm with records dating back to 1873…. To top it off, bank economists projected that wet weather could wash away up to $3 billion from the pockets of Prairie farmers.”14
This story was also accompanied by the ECCC’s sixth top story of the year, Saskatchewan’s Summer of Storms, which goes into details of hail damage, and over 175 Saskatchewan communities declaring states of emergencies.15
2010 turned out to be the 2nd highest runoff event recorded in the current Quill Lakes Flood so far. 670,000,000 cubic meters had entered into the lakes raising them almost 1.4 meters4. In this year a great deal of land was left unseeded in the Quill Basin which affected the ability for crops to use up the massive amounts of water, and effectively create a sponge effect for subsequent rains or the next spring runoff. This set the stage for an even larger problem that was about to come.
Then came the floods of 2011
To call 2011 a record breaker is an understatement. Dubbed as the “flood that would never end and the spring flood that became the summer flood,” and it featured the highest water levels and flows in modern history across parts of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.16 This was subsequently ranked as the number one top weather story for 2011, according to the ECCC.
“Statistically, the flooding on the Assiniboine River in 2011 was estimated to be at levels experienced once in 330 years. And on Lake Manitoba, engineers called the flood a one-in-2,000-year event. Governments at all levels spent close to $1 billion on flood fighting and victim compensation. … It was a recipe for disaster that started just before Halloween 2010, when a super-charged weather bomb dumped 50 to 100 mm of rain and big snows across the southern Prairies. Officials warned that conditions were ripe for one of the most destructive and disastrous spring floods in years, given that several Manitoba lakes and rivers were already near their highest levels ever. A normal or above-normal snowpack combined with a quick thaw would only worsen a bad situation.”16
“In southern Saskatchewan, the historic flooding was the result of a number of events, including intense June rainfalls at the same time snowmelt waters were arriving from the Rockies and excessive precipitation during the previous summer, fall, and winter. Five days of heavy rain between June 16 and 20 drenched already-soggy ground. Between 50 and 120 mm of added rain fell with heavier amounts occurring in thunderstorms. Immediately, lakes and reservoirs filled to their maximum allowable flood level, necessitating increased water release through spillways and adding to the flood risk downstream.”16
In 2011 the Quill Lakes had the highest recorded single year runoff at approx. 800,000,000 cubic meters. Eight times normal runoff. Even though the lakes were widening at a rapid rate by taking higher volumes to achieve each centimeter rise, the lakes still managed to grow approximately 1.6 meters. It would take a minimum of 4 years of extreme drought to evaporate this kind of water level increase.
After reaching new unprecedented record levels of runoff in the previous year, 2012 continued to provide “warm, wet and wild” conditions.
“In southern Manitoba, the skies opened up starting in March, and opened even wider in April and May. Winnipeg’s March-to-May precipitation amounted to 181 mm; normal is 112 mm. Saskatchewan was even wetter with twice the normal rainfall in May and June…”17
Even with the wild and frequent weather, and 225,000,000 cubic meters of inflow (just over double normal), the Quill Lakes only had a small rise to its new record high.
This year had proven to be much less active as compared to recent past years, and the first year in several where the extreme weather in Saskatchewan did not make leading headlines on the ECCC’s annual Top 10 Weather Stories list. However, in this year we did experience an especially long and cold winter that was referenced in the ECCC’s ninth top weather story for 2013: Prairie Winter Went on Forever.18 This prolonged weather would have also reduced evaporation rates come the spring, summer, and fall.
Despite the seemingly uneventful year as compared to those recently past, this was still a mild flood year, with the 285,000,000 cubic meters of annual runoff4, equating to an almost triple normal runoff value. Depending on a normal dry fall, including evaporation rates, records have shown that the Quill Lakes can contain up to triple normal runoff rates through evaporation. Only in extreme years do the Quill Lakes rise in multiples more than they evaporate. With peak evaporation rates at under a half a meter per year, evaporation capacity depends on the humidity levels in the air to be effective. On wet years, the lakes will decline slower, and with extreme wet years expand in elevation much faster.
The small reprieve that 2013 provided would once again be paid back in spades come the early summer of 2014 in the Quill Lakes Basin and beyond.
“Relentless rains turned into biblical-sized deluges over three days. Almost a year’s worth of rain fell in some places. Prior to the soaking, three weeks of wet weather meant that the latest rains had nowhere to go but overland. With soil saturated and ditches filled, the water cascaded into channels that rapidly fed into creeks and rivers.”19
As quoted from the ECCC’s second top story for 2014, Summer Flooding on Eastern Prairies, “For the past several years, flooding has been the big story across the Prairie provinces. In 2005, torrential rains produced summer flooding. In 2011, it was the combination of snowmelt and ice jamming that created a massive billion-dollar disaster across Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Last year, the coincidence of rapid snowmelt and heavy spring rains in southern Alberta generated the most disruptive, destructive and expensive flood in Canadian history – a $6 billion flood of floods. Unfortunately, anyone looking for a break in 2014 was sorely disappointed. This time water problems prevailed across the eastern Prairies just a week before summer began. Excessive rains on soggy ground − too much rain too fast over too many days – led to huge flooding and another billion-dollar disaster.”19
2014 proved to be yet another peak year, in a series of dual year peaks. This year recorded the third highest inflow of the Quill Lakes in the past 40 years (or more) at 622,000,000 cubic meters inflow4 resulting in approx. 80 cm rise in the Quill Lakes.
2015 provided a break in the precipitation with dry yet active weather in the West. “The drier weather combined with killing frosts played a toll on crops, and severe weather events including tornadoes, heavy rainfalls, strong winds, and hail falls numbered 307 across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba compared to an average of 234. Whereas tornado occurrences were down everywhere, hail strikes were way up and accounted for 70% of the severe weather.”20
Regardless of the drought and Frost, it was yet another Peak year for lake elevation. The lakes now had the sixth highest inflows in previous 40 years (or more) with 420,000,000 cubic meters of inflow – over 4 times normal runoff.
2016 provided one of the “longest and most active seasons ever since statistics were kept in 1991.” According to the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS). “Clusters of intense thunderstorms were more frequent and seemed to move slower than usual, taking longer to spread their misery…Nearly two-thirds of these severe weather events were hailstorms, which was twice the average, with payouts for crop hail insurance claims coming in at 50% higher than last year’s figures and well above the five-year average.”21
|Tornadoes||Hail||Strong Winds||Heavy Rain||Total|
|30-year Average (1986-2015)||34||128||51||26||239|
2016 Prairie Severe Summer Weather data collected from CMOS 21
As for the Quill Lakes, another record high Quill Lakes Elevation Level was set in this year according to the QLWA’s daily water levels collected from the WSA website. 22
By this point, you can clearly see a trend in how the weather has become more severe and unpredictable over the past decade or more and it is having an impact on water inflows into the Quill Lakes. It is clear that our climate is changing, and it is happening here and now. 23
As quoted by the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS), “Worldwide changes in extreme precipitation and temperature are consistent with what we anticipate from global warming. Science is linking climate change with [an] increased risk of forest fires, floods, heavy rains, and the most powerful hurricanes. Canadians experienced many of these extremes in 2017.”23
Summer 2017 proved to be a hot and dry season, however, the Quill Lakes still hit a record high water level in 2017. This is mainly due to above average spring runoff, the saturating fall rains in 2016, and deep-freezing in winter. This combination did not allow the lands to soak in much more water during spring runoff. Dry conditions did help evaporate an average volume of water from the Quill Lakes that initiated the drop in water levels, but does this really signal an end to the extreme wet weather cycle for 2018 and beyond?
If what we have been seeing in the historical weather patterns continues, the extreme weather we have seen in Saskatchewan, and even globally, suggests that our wild swings in weather are not over yet. We are still seeing alternating extremes of wet and dry years, and throughout these years – even in those that were close to drought-like conditions – there has not been (and likely will not be) enough dry weather to evaporate or slow up the rise of the Quill Lakes.
One extreme year can cause significant rises in the Quill Lakes – rises that takes years of maximum evaporation to reverse. What makes the Quill Lakes basin unique compared to other regions of the country that experienced flooding events is that excess water from those flooding events were sent downstream and eventually into the ocean. The Quill Lakes stored their own flood waters and flooded almost 100,000 acres of public and private lands, and millions in infrastructure, that are still flooded today! Since 2005 approximately 5.436 billion cubic meters (5,436,000,000) have flowed into the Quill Lakes, not one litre has been released to downstream, or on to the ocean.
This record of extreme rains for the last 13 years combined with complete storage was the major cause of a 7 meter rise in the Quill Lakes, and evaporation alone cannot keep up to the successive extreme wet years. The flooding continues to escalate the long-term impacts to the local and provincial economy, as well as the environmental integrity of the Quill Lakes Ecosystem.
When looking at a solution it is imperative that we realize that the largest impact and cause for the Quill Lakes flooding is the weather itself. The farmers did not make it rain any more than anyone else. A long-term solution needs to be found before the next active weather season causes the Quill Lakes water level to rise to the point of overflow.
Data and Sources
4 Water volumes table sourced from page 18 of the KGS- Quill Lakes Flood Mitigation Study; accessed Feb 11, 2018 (Accessed 2/11/18)
1 Top ten weather stories for 2005: story one: Alberta’s Flood of Floods – Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); URL:http://www2.ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=A4DD5AB5-1 (Accessed 2/11/18)
2 Top ten weather stories for 2005: story two: Manitoba’s Worst Widespread Flooding Ever – Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); URL: https://ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=0FB29103-1 (Accessed 2/11/18)
3 Regional highlights for 2005 – Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); URL:https://ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=164758D5-1 (Accessed 2/11/18)
4 Quill Lakes Flood Mitigation Study, Concept and Design Report, November 2016; KGS 15-0673-009;
URL: https://www.wsask.ca/Global/About%20WSA/Quill%20Lakes/Chapter%202%20-%20Pages%208%20to%2026.pdf (Accessed 2/11/18)
5 Top ten weather stories for 2006: story five: Prairie Hailers and a Deadly Twister – Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); URL: https://ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=B2C2C24F-1 (Accessed 2/11/18)
6 Top ten weather stories for 2007- Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); URL:
https://ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=5EBCEA59-1 (Accessed 2/11/18)
7 Top ten weather stories for 2007: story four: Tropical Summer on the Prairies – Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); URL: https://ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=D19BCCEB-1 (Accessed 2/11/18)
8 Top ten weather stories for 2007: story nine: Record Prairie Hailers – Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); URL: https://ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=56F87A91-1 (Accessed 2/11/18)
9 Runner-up stories for 2007: Some of the Worst Prairie Flooding Ever – Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); URL: https://ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=1BF890AC-1#s1 (Accessed 2/11/18)
10 Top ten weather stories for 2008: story six: Hail of a Summer for Growers – Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); URL: https://ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=D8F1A22A-1(Accessed 2/11/18)
11 Canada’s Top ten weather stories of 2009- Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); URL: https://ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=645A8F9C-1(Accessed 2/11/18)
12 Regional highlights for 2009 – Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); URL:https://ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=6B9C6658-1 (Accessed 2/11/18)
13 Canada’s Top ten weather stories of 2010- Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); URL: https://ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=53E29740-1 (Accessed 2/11/18)
14 Top ten weather stories for 2010: story three: From Dry to Drenched on the Prairies – Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); URL: https://ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=D19BCCEB-1 (Accessed 2/11/18)
15 Top ten weather stories for 2010: story six: Saskatchewan’s Summer of Storms – Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); URL: https://ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=9CA5E424-1 (Accessed 2/11/18)
16 Canada’s Top ten weather stories of 2011: story one: Historic Flood Fights in the West- Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); URL: https://ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=0397DE72-1 (Accessed 2/11/18)
17 Canada’s Top ten weather stories of 2012: story five: Summer on the Prairies … Warm, Wet and Wild- Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); URL: https://ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=1F934221-1 (Accessed 2/11/18)
18 Canada’s Top ten weather stories of 2013: story nine: Prairie Winter Went on Forever – Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); URL: https://ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=5BA5EAFC-1&offset=10&toc=show (Accessed 2/11/18)
19 Canada’s Top ten weather stories for 2014: Chapter 2: Summer Flooding on Eastern Prairies – Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); URL: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/general-marine-weather-information/publications/top-ten-weather-stories-archive-2014/chapter-2.html (Accessed 2/11/18)
20 Canada’s Top Ten Weather Stories for 2015 – Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS); URL: http://www.cmos.ca/site/top_ten?language=en_CA&a=2015 (Accessed 2/11/18)
21 Canada’s Top Ten Weather Stories for 2016 – Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS); URL: http://www.cmos.ca/site/top_ten?a=2016 (Accessed 2/11/18)
22 Saskatchewan Water Security Agency; URL: https://www.wsask.ca/ (Accessed 2/11/18)
23 Canada’s Top Ten Weather Stories for 2017 – Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS); URL: http://bulletin.cmos.ca/canadas-top-ten-weather-stories-2017/ (Accessed 2/11/18)