The Manitoba government is gearing up for spring — and the annual flood season — by breaking up ice on the Red River north of Winnipeg today.
The province's four Amphibex machines began crawling along the river near Breezy Point on Tuesday morning, breaking up ice that was cut by ice-cutters in the past week.
Each of the 22-tonne machines are breaking up ice in parts of the river that have a history of ice jamming, according to the provincial government.
The machines are working south towards Winnipeg, breaking up ice and opening channels in an effort to prevent spring ice jams.
“We’ve seen the damage ice-jam-related flooding can have for communities; it’s unpredictable and can develop rapidly,” Premier Greg Selinger stated in a news release.
“Working around the clock, our icebreaking fleet and the 28 dedicated people who operate the equipment are recognized across the continent for the incredible success they have protecting families and businesses.”
The ice thickness on the Red has been normal this season, according to local officials, adding that snow has prevented the ice from getting unusually thick in the cold weather.
At the same time, the extra snow has made it somewhat difficult for ice-cutting machines to score the ice.
Amphibex machines have been used in Manitoba since 2006. The current fleet can crush more than 25 kilometres of river ice a year, according to the province.
Too early for flood forecast
Provincial officials said it’s still too early to tell, but all indications point to flood conditions lower than 2011 and 2013 levels for the upcoming year.
“We have to see if there’s additional snow in March and April,” said Selinger. “We have to see how quickly the melt will occur, but we do know a lot of the soil conditions were quite dry last fall – that’s a positive indication.”
But St. Andrews Mayor Don Forfar said their community is concerned about the high amount of snow.
“The snow is doing two things. It’s impeding how deep we can cut, and secondly, it’s slowing down the equipment, and in some cases, we’ve had equipment damage,” said Forfar.
Still, he said, the community is in good shape for the start of flood prevention season.
New chief flood forecaster hired
Manitoba has been without a chief flood forecaster since Phillip Mutulu resigned in August, but Selinger said a new forecaster will be announced next week.
“Our new chief forecaster joins a team that is one of the most experienced flood-forecasting units in the country and likely the continent. They have unique shared experience of working during the largest, longest flood in Manitoba’s history,” Selinger said.
“There are currently 12 dedicated professionals who work at the forecast centre year-round including three senior forecasters and an executive director with more than 60 years of combined experience.”
The Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation Hydrologic Forecast Centre says it believes the flood potential is "significantly below that of 2011 and 2013" based on current river basin conditions.
Officials also say soil moisture conditions at the time of freeze-up were below normal on the Red River in Manitoba, mainly below normal on the Qu’Appelle River, below normal to normal on the Saskatchewan River, and near-normal to above-normal on the Assiniboine and Souris rivers.