Manitobans question controlled flood spill

Some residents in Manitoba's controlled flood area are wondering if the spill was necessary now that the Assiniboine River has peaked without major incident in Brandon and at points near Portage la Prairie.

Seeking compensation from government

Canadian naval reservists load sandbags to re-enforce a soft spot in the dike along the Assiniboine River. Portage residents are seeking compensation after the government breached a dike earlier this week. (The Canadian Press)

Some residents in Manitoba's controlled flood area are wondering if the spill was necessary now that the Assiniboine River has peaked without major incident in Brandon and at points near Portage la Prairie.

The province breached a dike along the Assiniboine River near Portage la Prairie last Saturday to prevent the possibility of a larger catastrophe if dikes along the Assiniboine River between Portage and Headingley collapsed.

So far crews have been able to control the flow of water at the release point at Hoop and Holler Bend to less than 20 per cent of what was originally planned. And area inundated by the controlled release — about 2.7 square kilometres — is much smaller than the 180 to 225 square kilometres the province initially suggested it would be.

Officials insisted Monday that the controlled release has succeeded in relieving pressure on downstream Assiniboine River dikes, and the situation is still being closely monitored.

Manitoba Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton defended the controlled breach, saying the action has bought floodfighters time. He said the cut in the dike functions in a way similar to releasing a valve in a tire and higher flows through the controlled cut may be needed in the next few weeks to lower water levelsand conduct repairs to the Portage Diversion flood control structure.

Ashton said the Assiniboine River was expected to crest in the Portage area Tuesday or Wednesday. "Even when it does crest we're expecting river levels to be high for next several weeks," he said.

"We're watching the weather and we're not taking anything for granted.

"We are seeing significant stabilization on the Assiniboine River," Ashton said. "This is a major flood that we're dealing with."

Warmer weather

Ashton said the warmer weather which hit the southern prairies Sunday has made it possible to move heavy equipment onto a number of downstream Assiniboine River dikes that were weakening from the continued stress of high water over the past several weeks. Canadian Forces troops have been working on repairing and building-up those dikes.

None of the homes in the controlled spill zone have been flooded and only a few had water reaching the bottom of their protective dikes, according to the government.

Still, area residents claim they are getting few answers and are calling on Manitoba to cover their losses, noting that they could be out of their homes for some two months.

"Probably the biggest question I have now is if this is how much water only came, did they need to make the cut?" said Shae Doherty, a greenhouse owner near where the province breached the dike.

But Ashton said the deliberate breach is making a difference and said the government is planning further measures for the next few weeks. Heavy rain could change the equation.

"We've got to also plan over the next week or two, to operate this in a way that provides some flexibility," Ashton said. "If we run into any issues on the Portage Diversion, for example, we have to have the ability to provide some relief on the flows there."

The government downgraded its plan to pump up to 3,000 cubic feet per second from the controlled release at the Hoop and Holler Bend near Portage la Prairie. The water was still being allowed out — but at a rate below the initial 500 cubic feet per second announced last week.


Meantime Brandon's Chamber of Commerce called a meeting for Tuesday night between government officials and the nearly 100 business owners in the evacuation zone.

And residents like Bernie Whetter want to find out when the evacuation order will be lifted and how the hundreds of people affected by the measures will be compensated.

Whetter was forced to move thousands of plants out of the evacuation zone last week. He has been selling his goods out of a parking lot, but said sales are down some 70 per cent.

"Just what kind of assistance is available … disaster assistance?" he said.

David Faurschau, the member of provincial government for the Portage area, said the province needs to spend money to properly flood proof western Manitoba.

The MLA, who has been touring the area around the controlled breach at the Hoop and Holler Bend, said new infrastructure for western Manitoba would be expensive, but said the area deserves the same protection that Winnipeg has.

"To see a lake right behind us where normally dry farm land and crops should be poking through the ground at this time normally, it's really disappointing," he said.

First Nations

Further north, residents of the Lake Manitoba First Nation fear they have been forgotten during the flood, noting that the lake is spilling over dangerously close to some homes.

Crews are building dikes more than 2 metres high in some areas to protect homes from the lake, which is not expected to crest until the middle of June.

Gary McLean, a councillor on the First Nation, estimates that more than 50 homes could be lost in the area and another 25 families could be forced to move out of the area.

For Freda Missyabit, whose family was forced from her home on the First Nation two weeks ago, her biggest concern is her livestock. Some of the family's cattle were loaded up Monday and taken to drier land. However, 16 head are stuck, as their grazing space has turned into a small island.

Still, officials say they have enough pasture for displaced cattle right now and note that so far very few animals have been injured or killed while being moved.

"We have identified crown lands that will be made available for additional animals and those are being added to that inventory," said Gerald Huebner, a spokesman for Manitoba Agriculture Ministry.