Manitoba flood review task force appointed

The Manitoba government has created an independent task force to review how the province handled last year's historic floods.

Separate panel will look at Lake Manitoba, Lake St. Martin floods

A bird's-eye view shows flood damage at Twin Lakes Beach, along the south shore of Lake Manitoba, in early June 2011. (CBC)

The Manitoba government has created an independent task force to review how the province handled last year's historic floods.

The 2011 Flood Review Task Force will look at how the province and municipalities fared in terms of flood preparedness, forecasting, communications and flood protection infrastructure, Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said Wednesday.

The independent panel will be led by David Farlinger, a civil engineer who headed an independent review of Manitoba's last "flood of the century" in 1997.

His review of the 1997 flood led to a $665-million expansion of the Red River Floodway.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday in Winnipeg, Farlinger said it's too early to tell what the task force's priorities will be regarding the 2011 flood.

"But we will see that as we move along, and if one or two of those issues require greater in-depth studies, we'll do that."

Farlinger and seven other task force members are expected to report back to the government by the end of this summer.

Thousands evacuated from homes

Ashton said officials want to detail the lessons learned from last year's flood and what could have been done better.

Manitoba's NDP government has come under fire for its handling of the flood, which dragged on well into the summer.

Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes and bout 2,600 of them have yet to return.

Some are living in temporary mobile homes arranged by the province, such as Annette and Joseph Viallet of St. Laurent, Man., whose home was devastated by some of the worst flooding along Lake Manitoba.

People from several flooded First Nations, including the Lake St. Martin First Nation, are living in hotel rooms in Winnipeg and elsewhere.

Ashton also announced on Wednesday that a separate review committee will look at how water levels on Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin — both of which experienced unprecedented flooding — are regulated, and what needs to be changed.

Construction limits an option

Winnipeg economist Harold Westdal will lead the 13-member review committee, which includes cattle producers, fishermen, First Nations members, municipal officials and others who were affected by the floods on those lakes.

Westdal said the committee will draft recommendations on how to better manage water levels on Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin, and whether new control structures are needed.

The committee will also look at the possibility of limiting where people can build homes along the lakes.

"So we're going to be looking at the possibility of introducing zoning in some areas around Lake Manitoba," Westdal said.

Westdal's committee has up to nine months to report back to the government with its findings.

About $4 million has been budgeted for both reviews.

Progressive Conservative MLA Ian Wishart said that price tag is reasonable, given the $815 million the flood has cost so far.

"Will we get $4 million worth of results out of it? That depends on whether they take action on the recommendations," Wishart said.

Wishart said he is pleased that Manitobans will have input in both reviews, but he added that it should not have taken the NDP government so long to set them up because some of the recommendations may take months or years to implement.

With files from The Canadian Press