Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger has advised Prime Minister Stephen Harper about the potential for a serious spring flood in the province.
Selinger spoke with Harper at last weekend's Grey Cup game in Edmonton, informing him of the likelihood of widespread flooding and the likely need for additional resources to protect communities and clean up the damage.
"We already have a disaster financial assistance program with the federal government but I wanted him to be aware that we need to plan early. And I wanted the federal government to be a participant in that plan," Selinger said.
"For many years we've said that if we could get some of that disaster financial assistance money allocated towards mitigation projects — in other words, projects we can do in advance in a flood — we could prevent damage in Manitoba."
The Winnipeg area received 55.6 centimetres of snow in November — the highest snowfall amount for the city in that month since 1996. That winter was followed by the so-called flood of the century in the spring of 1997.
The snow, combined with a rainy spring and summer, has put 2010 into the record book as Winnipeg's fourth wettest ever.
And much of that moisture was still saturating the ground as the frost arrived last month, which means snowmelt in the spring will run off rather than be absorbed.
Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz said he has genuine concerns about the spring, but said he is somewhat buoyed by the recent expansion of the Red River Floodway, "which is ready for the one in 700 [year flood].
"By the same token, we know in the city we have several hotspots that we have to address. And we certainly know there's problems in rural Manitoba as well," Katz said.
There are several riverside properties that require temporary dikes to be created out of sandbags almost every spring to hold back the rising river.
The floodway redirects water around the eastern side of Winnipeg through a 48-kilometre channel, between St. Norbert in the south and Lockport in the north.
First used in 1969, it has been credited by provincial authorities with saving Winnipeg more than 20 times between 1968 and 2009, and preventing an estimated $10 billion in flood damage.
After the 1997 flood, Manitoba officials decided to launch a $600-million expansion project to deepen the channel and increase the level of protection from major floods with a one-in-90-years probability to those with a one-in-700-years probability.
The expansion was started in 2005 and completed in 2009.
The floodway can now protect more than 450,000 Manitobans — more than 140,000 homes and 8,000 businesses — and would prevent more than $12 billion in damage to the provincial economy in the event of a one-in-700-years flood.