Current Drought Conditions

This Water Availability and Drought Conditions Report provides an update on drought conditions throughout Manitoba for September 2017.

  • During the short term (one month) Manitoba experienced normal to above normal precipitation conditions across most of the province. Northwest agro-Manitoba and regions of northern Manitoba experienced moderately to severely dry conditions. 
  • During the medium term (three months) much of Manitoba continued to experience moderately dry precipitation conditions, with some areas of severely dry conditions. Portions of agro-Manitoba, southeastern Manitoba, and the areas surrounding Churchill and Lynn Lake experienced normal precipitation conditions.
  • Over the long term (twelve months), most of Manitoba experienced normal to above normal precipitation, except for parts of central and northwestern agro-Manitoba, and regions surrounding Arborg and Norway House which experienced moderately dry conditions.
  • Most streamflows and lake levels across southern Manitoba are normal or above normal except for a few tributaries that dropped to below normal conditions. In northern Manitoba, the Hayes and Seal rivers are below normal, and most northerly tributaries to the Nelson River are observing below normal to much below normal flows.
  • There are currently no major concerns over reservoir water supplies. There have been continued reports of water levels in dugouts becoming low across agro-Manitoba, suggesting on-farm water supplies would benefit from additional fall precipitation and adequate snowfall over the coming winter.
  • Normal to above normal precipitation over the past month drastically reduced fire activity and risk across the province. As of October 2nd, 2017, there have been 532 wildfires burning a total of 169,490 hectares in Manitoba.
  • Generally, the drought conditions observed during the 2017 growing season have not had an unfavourable impact to crop yields. Pastures on lighter soils would benefit from additional precipitation at this time. Winter hay supplies are reported as adequate with the exception of the central region.
  • Environment and Climate Change Canada’s seasonal temperature forecast for October-November-December 2017 is projected to be above normal across Manitoba. The seasonal precipitation forecast is projected to be above normal across most of agro-Manitoba and east of Lake Winnipeg, and normal throughout the remainder of the province.

Drought & Flow Monitoring

Streamflow Percentile Plots:

A percentile is a value on a scale of one hundred that indicates the percent of a distribution that is equal to or below it.  In general:

  • streamflow which is greater than the 75th percentile is considered above normal.
  • streamflow which is between 25th and 75th percentiles is considered normal.
  • streamflow which is less than the 25th percentile is considered below normal.

"Median" indicates the midpoint (or 50th percentile) of the distribution, whereby 50 % of the data falls below the given point, and 50 % falls above.

For other flow categories,

  • "Lowest" indicates that the estimated streamflow is the lowest value ever measured for the day of the year.
  • "Highest" indicates that the estimated streamflow is the highest value ever measured for the day of the year.

Reservoir Conditions:


Water Availability & Drought Condition Reports

The Surface Water Management Section of Sustainable Development provides periodic updates on water availability and drought conditions. Please see below for the most recent and historical updates.

For more information on current drought conditions across Canada please visit Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Drought Watch website at:

Manitoba Drought Management Strategy

In the 20th century, billions of dollars of damages have occurred as a result of droughts across the Canadian Prairies. Droughts can occur over large areas and can last for months or even years. The economic losses caused by severe drought make drought one of Canada's most costly hazards.

Manitoba Sustainable Development’s Surface Water Management Strategy provides Manitoba with the vision for a balanced approach to sustainable surface water management into the future. The Surface Water Management Strategy's three pillars are improving and protecting water quality, preparing for extreme events, and co-ordination and awareness. Within the context of the second pillar on preparing for extreme events, the Surface Water Management Strategy calls for the preparation of a drought strategy for Manitoba.

Manitoba's Drought Management Strategy provides a framework and action strategies for an integrated approach to minimize the impacts of drought on Manitoba's people, economy and environmental resources. The Strategy improves our understanding of drought occurring in the past, present, and future.

Drought Management Strategy (pdf)

Drought Committees

Co-ordinated monitoring, reporting and response to drought are required between stakeholders and the federal, provincial and local governments. Therefore, a Manitoba Drought Assessment Committee and Basin Drought Assessment Groups will be formed to facilitate the required co-ordination of drought management activities throughout the province.

Manitoba Drought Assessment Committee

The Manitoba Drought Assessment Committee is an inter-agency committee with representatives from various government departments and agencies. The committee provides high level oversight, direction, and input into the areas of drought monitoring, reporting and management for the province. The Manitoba Drought Assessment Committee meets regularly during a drought or when a drought appears to be developing. Each member of the committee represents their own department/agency and provides a departmental/agency update to the committee about drought monitoring, reporting and management, and then provides information from the committee back to their department/agency.

The Manitoba Drought Assessment Committee reports to the minister responsible for The Water Protection Act and provides advice to the minister and the Manitoba government on actions that are necessary to monitor, report and manage the effects of drought. The committee is chaired by the manager of the Surface Water Management Section (Sustainable Development). Technical secretariat support is provided by the Surface Water Management Section. The committee is encouraged to raise public awareness regarding drought impacts and to support educational programs for water conservation and drought management.


The Manitoba Drought Assessment Committee is comprised of at least one member representing each of the following:

  • Manitoba Sustainable Development, Surface Water Management Section (Chair and Technical Secretariat)
  • Manitoba Sustainable Development (other branches/sections)
  • Manitoba Agriculture
  • Manitoba Sport, Culture and Heritage
  • Manitoba Infrastructure
  • Emergency Measures Organization
  • Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation
  • Manitoba Indigenous and Municipal Relations
  • Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living
  • Manitoba Hydro
  • Manitoba Water Council
  • Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Other provincial, aboriginal, and federal agencies, such as Environment Canada, are engaged as appropriate.

Roles and Responsibilities

The Manitoba Drought Assessment Committee has the following roles and responsibilities:

  • to co-ordinate and provide input to drought assessment and reporting
  • to consult with stakeholders, including Basin Drought Assessment Groups, to verify drought indicators and conditions
  • to educate Manitobans regarding drought and drought mitigation efforts
  • to make recommendations to the minister responsible for The Water Protection Act regarding the declaration of drought stage, water conservation, and drought mitigation strategies
  • to provide informed decision making support to the minister responsible for The Water Protection Act regarding the declaration of serious water shortages and water management during serious and/or extreme droughts
  • to review and provide ongoing direction on the implementation of the Manitoba Drought Management Strategy
  • to implement programs and policies regarding drought and water supply management in Manitoba
  • to provide direction for co-ordinated drought assessment and research to the benefit of all Manitobans

Basin Drought Assessment Groups

Basin Drought Assessment Groups are stakeholder-based groups which will use their local knowledge of the basin and current observations to provide verification of drought conditions and report any drought impacts. Basin Drought Assessment Groups will use their local knowledge of the basin and current observations to provide verification of drought conditions and report any drought impacts. The Manitoba Drought Assessment Committee will use this information when determining drought stage and appropriate actions for drought management. The groups will be encouraged to raise public awareness regarding drought and to support educational programs for water conservation and drought management.

Basin Drought Assessment Groups will be established for four major watersheds/regions of Manitoba, including: (1) the Red River Basin, (2) the Souris and Assiniboine River basins, (3) the Interlake and surrounding regions, and (4) northern Manitoba.


The Basin Drought Assessment Groups could be comprised of members representing, but not limited to, the following:

  • Manitoba Conservation Districts Association, including conservation district managers
  • Association of Manitoba Municipalities
  • local governments including rural municipalities/cities/towns/villages
  • water suppliers such as Pembina Valley Water Co-operative
  • agricultural organizations and producer groups such as the Manitoba Beef Producers. Association, Keystone Agricultural Producers, the Forage Seed Association, and the Manitoba Pork Council
  • representatives from other local industrial operations
  • Indigenous governments and organizations such as local First Nations and the Manitoba Métis Federation
  • Manitoba cottage associations and other recreation-focused organizations
  • Manitoba Hydro
  • City of Winnipeg
  • transboundary watershed groups such as the Red River Basin Commission
  • local provincial government staff from Manitoba Agriculture, Manitoba Sustainable Development, and Manitoba Infrastructure

Roles and Responsibilities

The Basin Drought Assessment Groups will have the following roles and responsibilities:

  • report on real-time and historical drought conditions and impacts within their respective watershed, either from first hand observations or as described through their network of contacts
  • provide input and recommendations to drought monitoring and reporting in Manitoba
  • provide input and feedback to the Manitoba Drought Assessment Committee issuessurrounding drought manamgement including, but not limited to, drought stage, declaration of serious water shortages, water conservation, and drought mitigation
  • educate basin residents regarding drought, water conservation, and other drought mitigation efforts
  • develop and implement, within the scope of their organizations, programs and policies regarding drought and water supply management
  • review and provide input to the ongoing evaluation of the Manitoba Drought Management Strategy
Manitoba Basin Drought Assessment Map

Drought Impacts

History of drought on the Canadian Prairies

In the last 100 years, geographically extensive, multi-year droughts with severe impacts were observed in the 1930s, 1960s, 1980s, and most recently in the early 2000s. In fact, according to the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction's Canadians at Risk report (2010)1, droughts are responsible for five out of the top ten most expensive Canadian natural disasters on record.

1 Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR). 2010. Canadians at Risk: Our exposure to natural hazards.

Drought in the 1800s

Although not as well documented as the droughts of the 1900s, there were also many severe droughts that occurred in the 1800s. The Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, 2010)1 lists impacts such as scorched potato crops in the Red River Valley in 1805, continuous drought and hordes of grasshoppers across the prairies from 1816 to 1819, complete failure on the 1846 crop in the Red River Valley, crop failures and grasshopper plague in 1868, and nine years of continuous drought across the prairies in the 1890s.

1 Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR). 2010. Canadians at Risk: Our exposure to natural hazards.

1930s Drought - The Dirty Thirties

Although droughts in the latter half of the 19th century may have been more severe in some areas, the drought of the 1930s was the drought with the largest impact on Manitoba and the Canadian Prairies. The drought set in during 1929 and prevailed through to the early 1940s. The drought of the 1930s was made famous by massive dust storms which earned the decade the nickname "the dirty thirties". The multi-year severe drought, combined with the 1929 stock market crash, led to devastating socioeconomic conditions on the prairies. Blowing dust and significantly reduced crop production occurred from the early 1930s to 1939. By the mid-1930s the drought was set in across the North American prairies, including across the Canadian Prairies and south all the way to Texas in the U.S.A. Poor soil conservation and farming practices contributed to the soil conditions that allowed the dust storms to reach extraordinary proportions. Crop disease and grasshopper infestations added to the agricultural devastation. With low prices for cattle and lack of feed, conditions forced producers to reduce cattle herds by selling at low prices, or in some cases, culling portions of their herd with no return. The 1936 census indicates that 500 farms were abandoned in Manitoba (Dean et al., 1998)2. Lack of social programs and crop insurance combined with the poor economic conditions exacerbated many socioeconomic drought impacts. The dust and lack of water also caused health impacts on people, livestock, and wildlife. "Dust pneumonia" and other respiratory illnesses caused many deaths. Failed crops and economic instability of farming operations created severe mental stress for farming families which led to increased suicide rates. Drought conditions finally began to ease in the early 1940s. The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) was established in 1935 by the Federal Government of Canada as a Branch of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. PFRA's mandate was to mitigate and recover from the drought by delivering various programs on soil erosion and on-farm water supply to support famers and agricultural industries.

Drifted soil near Cadillac, Saskatchewan, 1937

2 Dean, William G.; Conrad Heidenreich; and Thomas McIlwraith. 1998. Concise Historical Atlas of Canada. University of Toronto Press.

Early 1960s Drought

The drought of the early 1960s was not as long in duration as the drought of the 1930s but was one of the most severe droughts on record. In June 1961 there were record low rainfall accumulations coinciding with record mean monthly temperature and bright sunshine hours. Conditions led to wide scale crop failures and famers selling off cattle due to lack of feed and water. Drought conditions in many locations were worse than conditions in the 1930s. Dust storms were prevalent reminding people of the great dust bowl of the 1930s. Although moderate droughts were reported throughout the 1960s, widespread severe drought was limited to 1961.

Drought of the late 1980s

The return of widespread severe drought occurred in the 1980s. The drought had significant economic impacts in Manitoba. The drought peaked in severity in 1988 causing agricultural production in Manitoba to reduce to 60% of average. There was also an $80 million dollar loss in hydro power exports in 1989 (Simard and Joyce, 2005)3. Loss of wetland habitat and increase incidence of disease had a negative impact on waterfowl populations and associated recreation opportunities. Despite the severity of impacts, conditions could have been worse if drought preparedness had not been improved since the 1930s. Lessons on soil conservation had been learned from the 1930s and measures such as new tillage techniques, and treed shelter belts greatly reduced the potential for wind erosion of soils. Crop insurance and government subsidies were helpful to reduce socioeconomic impacts.

1988 drought, near Pipestone (TWP 6-RGE 26), Manitoba, June, 1988 (Courtesy: Agriculture and Agri-food Canada).

3 Simard, T.J., and J. R. Joyce. 2005. Manitoba Hydro: 2002-2004 Drought Risk Management Review.

Drought from 1999 to 2004

The drought that occurred from 1999 to the mid-2000s was a severe multiyear drought that covered a large portion of the Canadian Prairies. It is the drought of record in some areas of Alberta. The drought had impacts across the prairies on agriculture, tourism, health, hydro power generation, and forestry. The Canadian gross domestic product lost $5.8 billion dollars for 2001 and 2002 due to the drought and more than 41,000 jobs were lost (Lawford et al., 2008)4. There was a $3.6 billion dollar reduction in agricultural production in the 2001/2002 fiscal year (Lawford et al., 2008)4. The drought also led to a dramatic increase in forest fires and numerous massive dust storms were reported. In fiscal year 2003/04, Manitoba Hydro incurred the largest financial loss in its history of $436 million due to reduced flow in its system (Manitoba Hydro-Electric Board, 2004)5.

Spilt Lake, Nelson River Basin, June, 2003 (Courtesy: Manitoba Hydro).

4 Lawford, Rick, Harvey Hill, Elaine Wheaton, Irene Hanuta, Alf Warkentin and Bill Girling. 2008. User Expectations for the Drought Research Initiative (DRI).
  Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society Bulletin. Vol. 36, No 3.
5 Manitoba Hydro-Electric Board. 2004. Manitoba Hydro-Electric Board 53rd Annual Report.

The 2012 Drought

Drought conditions quickly developed across Manitoba in 2012 after widespread flooding that occurring in 2011. Although short in duration, drought impacts were already noticeable as pasture productivity was reduced and many dugout supplies were inadequate for livestock operations. Wildfires broke out in May near the communities of Badger and Vita leading to the declaration of local states of emergency. In October more wildfires occurred in southeast Manitoba and the Interlake. In the October fires two states of local emergency were declared, approximately 270 people were evacuated including the communities of Vita and Ross, and 14 homes or farm operations were damaged.

Dugouts in the Interlake Region, Manitoba, 2012.
Historic Droughts

Tree ring analysis provides insight about the climate on the prairies prior to human observations started in the early 19th century. Tree rings research provides data that demonstrate the occurrence of wet and dry cycles in prairie rivers for the last 1000 years. A clear multidecadal cycle between wet and dry cycles exists. Tree rings in the Upper Assiniboine River Watershed provide evidence that the most severe drought on record occurred in the latter half of the 16th century. This drought appears more severe, and much longer, than the drought of the 1930s. Tree rings form the Red River Basin show that the Red River was also in a severe multi-decade drought in the mid- to late-1500s. It is difficult to comprehend the catastrophe that would occur if Manitoba and the rest of the Canadian Prairies were to experience such a severe, multi-decade drought today. It would be the greatest natural disaster the Canadian Prairies has ever experienced.

Future Drought

The history of drought in Manitoba and the rest of the Canadian Prairies demonstrates that the impacts of drought can be extreme and can have consequences from a local to national scale. The historical cycle of wet and dry periods assures that the return of severe drought to Manitoba and the Canadian Prairies is inevitable in the coming decades. Severe multiyear droughts have occurred frequently in each century for the last number of centuries. The droughts throughout the 20th century have proved that increased capacity (preparedness) through a variety of methods can help reduce the impacts of drought. The best way to protect Manitoba from the harsh impacts of drought is to prepare as best as possible before severe drought occurs. Manitoba Drought Management Strategy will enhance Manitoba's understanding of drought and as action items are implemented, increase Manitoba's resilience to drought.

Have you seen drought impacts on your area? Let us know! Please send us an email at Don't forget to include pictures!

Contact Us

Have you seen drought impacts on your area? Let us know! Please send us an email at Don't forget to include pictures!

Water Science & Management Branch
Box 14 - 200 Saulteaux Cres
Winnipeg, MB
R3J 3W3