The province has taken another step forward to prevent future flooding on several First Nations communities.
Premier Brian Pallister announced collaboration plans with several First Nations in the Interlake area that will be directly and indirectly affected by the province's plans to cut two outlet channels on Lake St. Martin and Lake Manitoba to mitigate flood risks.
"For nearly a year our government has engaged with Indigenous communities that may be impacted by these channel projects in order to build relationships, share information and gain a greater understanding of the potential challenges and benefits that do exist," Pallister said on Wednesday.
The premier called the upcoming consultations on how to proceed the "most comprehensive, thorough and robust Crown and Indigenous communities consultations in the history of Manitoba."
Pallister said funding will be made available to communities to not only make sure their treaty rights are protected during consultations, but that their concerns will be heard.
"Meanwhile, our governments recognize there remain First Nations communities from the Interlake region that have for far too long been suffering the effects of catastrophic flooding in 2011." Pallister said communities such as Lake St. Martin will begin to return home this summer.
Infrastructure Minister Blaine Pedersen said construction on access roads for the channels will begin this year, and channel construction will start in 2019, provided all environmental criteria are met and consultations are complete.
New channel to have triple the capacity
The Lake St. Martin channel will be an enhancement of the current channel, said Doug McMahon, deputy assistant infrastructure minister. "The existing facility is really an emergency channel that was constructed under emergent conditions," he said. "Essentially it will be a 23-kilometre long, new flood relief channel."
The existing channel doesn't have any floodgates or structures that are easily controlled, McMahon said, and was designed only to channel water upto 4,000 cubic feet per second (CFS.) The new channels will be able to handle 11,500 CFS, or nearly triple the current capacity.
The Lake Manitoba channel, also 23 kilometres long, will be designed for 7,500 CFS, and will work with the current infrastructure on the channel, McMahon said.
Pallister said the affected communities share significant interest in the economic- and job-related aspects of the $500-million project. He said communities will be "meaningfully included in construction and related work opportunities that these projects will create."
"The flooding that has occurred around Lake Manitoba has put people's lives in turmoil for some time, to put it mildly," Pallister said. "This does not guarantee, and nothing does, that Mother Nature is not going to throw something at the people in that area, that can happen.
"But it does assist in giving that peace of mind that people deserve to have."