Manitoba had better flood forecasts
Posted: Sep 28, 2011 3:51 PM CT
Last Updated: Sep 28, 2011 3:45 PM CT
The Manitoba government went ahead with the Hoop and Holler dike breach even after they were told the crest had arrived, an investigation by the CBC's I-Team has found.
Provincial officials had data from Alf Warkentin, a retired Manitoba flood forecaster, that more accurately predicted flood conditions on the Assiniboine and Souris rivers.
But Warkentin, who was hired back by the province to provide his flood data this spring, told CBC News that his predictions were not taken seriously by the government.
'There was indication that Hoop and Holler would not really be needed.'—Alf Warkentin
Warkentin said the official forecasts were significantly off, which ended up wasting taxpayer money for preparations that were not needed.
"As we know, there's a lot of politics involved in these issues. Everybody gets involved when it gets to that point," Warkentin said in an interview.
The New Democratic Party, which is vying for a fourth government term in the Oct. 4 provincial election, has been campaigning in part on a successful flood fight this past spring. But in the months after the flood battle, experts have shown that the official flood forecasts were way off.
Those mistakes have resulted in extensive damage to places such as Shea Doherty's farm, which became flooded when government officials intentionally breached a dike at the Hoop and Holler Bend in southern Manitoba.
The dike was intentionally cut in May because the rising Assiniboine River was putting pressure on protective dikes in many places along the river. Doherty's family farm was located just south of the bend.
"Terror in the hearts of the people, let's put it that way," Doherty said, describing how officials told him they had no choice but to cut the dike.
Crest had already arrived: Warkentin
Warkentin said a day before the dike was cut at Hoop and Holler, he had told the province that the crest had already arrived — a prediction that turned out to be accurate.
"To my mind, there was indication that Hoop and Holler would not really be needed. That was my point," he said.
When asked if he had conveyed that point to government officials, Warkentin replied, "It was in the numbers I provided…. They knew very well. They were well aware of the capacity of the diversion and the river."
But the dike was cut, and Doherty watched a large portion of his income — along with future earnings — get washed away by flood waters.
"We couldn't even re-establish fast enough. It's done three-quarters of our income because everything is based on four months for us," he said. "The strawberry crop, it entirely wiped out [for] four years for us."
NDP Leader Greg Selinger stood by the government forecasters, saying there was no choice at the time but to breach the dike.
"I had advice from senior officials in the government that the breach was something that would protect damage from hundreds of thousands of Manitobans, and I think the advice was good advice, and I think we made the right call," Selinger said.
Warkentin said he believes the provincial forecasters did the best they could, but they did not have the knowledge that comes with 40 years of flood forecasting experience.
The road at Hoop and Holler has since been fixed, but Doherty said his confidence in government officials has not been fully restored.
"All I can say is make sure your stats are good. Get the trust of the people. That's what they are elected for," he said.
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