Assiniboine Valley farmers fed up with chronic flooding

Farmers in Manitoba's Assiniboine Valley are frustrated with chronic flooding that they say the provincial government is ignoring.

Farmers in Manitoba's Assiniboine Valley are frustrated with chronic flooding that they say the provincial government is ignoring.

Cliff Trinder says his cattle and horse ranch along the Assiniboine River near Russell, Man., has been flooded 14 times — in both summer and winter — since 2005, including this spring.

"We've got erosion, we've got fences gone. This thing is so totally unnatural," he told CBC News in an interview.

"It's a mess, plus we can't use the better part of our land. So we need a solution."

Trinder and other Assiniboine Valley farmers and ranchers are teaming up to raise concerns about the Shellmouth Dam, which they say the province is chronically mismanaging.

The producers say the province started operating the dam, which flooded land downstream that was not otherwise affected by the spring melt.

The farmers are accusing the province of inaccurate flood forecasting in recent years, particularly since longtime forecaster Alf Warkentin retired in 2010.

"Horrible forecasting, the forecast. I've never seen a forecast this far off," Trinder said.

"I've dealt with these people — they've been off by 20, 30 per cent. This thing is off the map."

Trinder's ranch, which also grows grass for forage, is located halfway between the dam and the inflow of the Qu'Appelle River.

He said the provincial government has spent $700 million on upgrading the Red River Floodway but nothing on the Shellmouth Dam.

Sask. farmers draining land illegally, rancher says

Trinder said the province also doesn't consider that farmers in neighbouring Saskatchewan, which is experiencing an economic boom and rising land values, are draining water illegally.

The water being drained from Saskatchewan lands flows through Manitoba, which he warns could have implications for cities like Winnipeg.

"If we had the same conditions in 2014 that we had in 2011, Winnipeg will … look like Calgary because the Portage Diversion will not be able to handle it. Guaranteed," he said.

"That city is in peril with this situation."

Trinder said officials in Saskatchewan have ignored complaints from Manitobans on the premise that it's not their jurisdiction.

"We've got bureaucratic foot-dragging in both provinces. It's easier to ignore it," he said.

"Saskatchewan looks at it, some of these farms are now huge — I mean, they're multimillion dollars. The increase in land value in production, it's a economic boom. And our problem here is we're in the sewer."

Some considering lawsuit

Meanwhile, Trinder said he and other area farmers are still waiting for compensation from the floods of 2011 and 2012, which he said were both caused by operation of the Shellmouth Dam.

"We were promised full compensation. Remember, the premier last year stood up in the legislature and said Lake Manitoba's average payout was $300,000 for damages for 2011," he said.

"We haven't even been able to put in a claim yet for 2011."

He estimated that he lost $600,000 worth of production from the 2011 and 2012 floods and about $165,000 from 2009 — another year for which he has filed a claim for compensation.

"It's sitting on somebody's desk," he said. "They haven't refused it, so I can't appeal it. They haven't accepted it. And they basically ignore it. That was 2009."

An adjuster recently told Trinder and other farmers they can start filing 2011 flood claims, but only if they sign waivers agreeing not to sue the province, he said. Read the waiver form below.

That has some talking about launching a class-action lawsuit, said Trinder.

"It's not me sitting here saying, 'I'm going to sue for whatever.' We have to come up with a solution here, and we're not getting any input back from government," he said.

"Government seems to be totally devoid of even the will to find a solution to this. It's a bloody mess."

Waiver form given to property owners

Below is an "acknowledgement and consent" form presented to Assiniboine Valley farmers and property owners who have been affected by artificial flooding in 2011 and 2012 related to the operation of the Shellmouth Dam.

The document was provided by Cliff Trinder. Names and identifying information have been redacted.


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