Flood channels are emergency projects that need quick federal approval, Manitoba premier says

Premier Brian Pallister says building two flood channels at Lake St. Martin and Lake Manitoba is an emergency situation and he's asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fast-track approvals for the projects.
Premier Brian Pallister says he's asked the federal government for fast-tracked funding for the channels. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Premier Brian Pallister says the need for two flood channels at Lake St. Martin and Lake Manitoba is an emergency and he's asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fast-track approval for the projects.

The Manitoba premier said Monday that he's already sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to that effect.

Pallister took several cabinet ministers and MLAs to an open house at a community centre on Monday in St. Laurent, on Lake Manitoba about 80 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

The meeting also was attended by about 100 area residents, many of whom suffered property damage from the 2011 flood and applauded the premier's remarks. 

Gil Giardin has lived in the area for close to 40 years and said the project will benefit future generations.

"They should have done that 20 years ago," he said. "Even the year the flood came, I never thought the water would be that high. In front of our house, we had more than six feet ... more."

'Let's not wait': RM of St. Laurent councillor Monte Carrier. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)
Monte Carrier is a councillor for the RM of St. Laurent.

"Our major concern is, let's not wait. We have the urgency, all our people have the urgency to get this completed as soon as we can," he said.

Homes and cottages on the south basin were flooded when Lake Manitoba reached a record high level in 2011, following a windstorm that capped off one of the most widespread flooding events in the province's history. 

A provincial map shows the planned Lake St. Martin and Lake Manitoba channels. (Province of Manitoba)
An emergency channel from Lake St. Martin was cut that summer from the northeast end of Lake St. Martin to the lower Dauphin River (where it could then flow to Lake Winnipeg). Without the emergency channels, in 2012 Lake Manitoba could have risen 0.4 metres (1.3 feet) above the record set in 2011; Lake St. Martin would have risen another 0.9 metres (2.9 feet). 

But the province determined that wasn't a big enough difference to prevent real damage in another major flood event, and wanted a channel that could be operated at all times. So in 2013 the province announced plans to expand and make permanent the Lake St. Martin channel and create a new outlet for Lake Manitoba.

The cost of the two 23-kilometre channels will likely exceed $500 million, Pallister said, but he balanced that against the damage caused by severe flooding in 2011.

The $100-million Lake St. Martin channel, which opened in November 2011, is an emergency outlet to redirect water from Lake St. Martin to Big Buffalo Lake, where it flows naturally into the Dauphin River and eventually into Lake Winnipeg. (Province of Manitoba)
"Imagine how many outlets we could have built on [the funding] for the flood claims," he said.

Previous floods have cost the Manitoba government more than $1 billion in flood compensation, he said.

Pallister wants to have the two channels completed in a year.

While most people in the audience support the project, some residents along the channel route in the RM of Grahamdale have concerns about how the province is expropriating the land.
RM of Grahamdale Deputy Reeve Dan Meisner (centre, in green) speaks with Premier Brian Pallister about the plans. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC News)

Deputy Reeve Dan Meisner said 18 families will be affected, and four will have to move entirely.

"Farmers don't farm today and shut down tomorrow or move in a day. You are not moving an apartment ... you know what I mean? They are very concerned," Meisner said.

"Mr. Pallister talks about sitting at the kitchen table with farmers all the time and he's done that for years. Well, I'll tell you it's pretty tough for me as their councillor, to sit at their tables and talk about their future — they're in tears all the time."

Premier Brian Pallister says the need for two flood channels at Lake St. Martin and Lake Manitoba is an emergency and he's asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fast-track approval for the projects. 2:07

About the Author

Sean Kavanagh

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Sean has had a chance to live in some of Canada's other beautiful places (Whistler, B.C., and Lake of the Woods, Ont.) as well as in Europe and the United States. In more than a decade of reporting, Sean has covered some of the seminal events in Manitoba, from floods to elections, including a stint as the civic affairs reporter responsible for city hall.