Ice jam

Ice jams, like this at Winnipeg's St. Vital bridge, have proven to be the biggest problem facing flood officials in 2009. (Photo courtesy of Ian Hanke)

Some tube dikes being used to hold back the rising Red River in Winnipeg are not keeping out flood waters.

Clair Gregory, who lives on Turnbull Drive in the south end of the city, near the floodway, has water pouring through the bottom of the stack of tubes.

"The river's come up so much overnight that the tube dike is now under water. We've still got about a foot and a half before it gets up to our floor level," he said Thursday.

Gregory had built a sandbag dike on his property to protect his home but a few days ago provincial officials asked him to try out the rubber, water-filled tube dikes.

Each 15-metre-long tube provides the same coverage as 500 sandbags and only takes about 10 minutes to fill with a high-pressure hose like one used by firefighters. They can be linked and stacked to cover large areas.

tubedikes

The Manitoba government has invested in a store of tube dikes, like these at Royal Manitoba Yacht Club. The 15-metre-long tubes are filled with water and strung together or stacked. ((Bert Savard/CBC))

The Manitoba government made a big investment in the technology just 10 days ago, spending $500,000 to purchase five certified emergency response trailers (CERTs), each containing about 60 tube dikes.

But the river water at Gregory's property began gushing past the tubes on Wednesday evening. By the morning, the situation was far worse. City crews are now at the scene, trying to fix the problem but not having much success.

"The water's coming underneath [the tubes] faster than they can pump it out," said Gregory. "But what's bothering me right at the moment is the sandbag dike isn't working either.

"I don't know whether the ground was frozen underneath it to some extent or what's going on, but [water] seems to have gotten underneath it, too."

Water also got past the tube dikes placed on Christie Road and has covered parts of the street in water. As many as a dozen homes are affected in the area, situated in a tight elbow of the river in the south end of the city.

'The water's coming underneath [the tubes] faster than they can pump it out. But what's bothering me right at the moment is the sandbag dike isn't working either.'— Clair Gregory, homeowner

None of the homes has been flooded as of early Thursday afternoon.

Randy Hull, the city's emergency preparedness co-ordinator, said the amount of water coming from the river was just too much for the tube dikes to handle.

"Operationally, we thought the water would not be this high overnight, and we thought and we thought we would be able to address it again today, but the water actually overtopped the height of this dike," he said. "So what happens is, when the water actually gets as high as these dikes, they become buoyant neutral and with that, they sort of lift slightly."

'We're in unprecedented territory in having such high flows in the City of Winnipeg and still having an ice cover.' —Steve Topping, Manitoba Water Stewardship

All of the ice this year has made it a challenge to forecast where trouble spots are going to be, said Hull, noting that hydrologists are noting several inches of difference in the height of the river from the south part of the city to where the city routinely measures water levels at the James Avenue pumping station downtown.

"We didn't understand the full effect of an ice cover versus open water," said Steve Topping, spokesperson with Manitoba Water Stewardship. "We're in unprecedented territory in having such high flows in the City of Winnipeg and still having an ice cover."

The ice just south of the floodway inlet is still 61 to 76 centimetres thick in some places, Topping said.

Gregory believes the only way to keep the water from his house is if officials continue to raise the floodway gates to reduce the water level of the Red River flowing through the city.

Floodway gates partially raised

The gates were partially raised Wednesday afternoon. Officials had said the flood diversion channel wouldn't be used until all of the ice was off the river at the floodway inlet south of Winnipeg.

There was concern that ice floes in the channel could clog up and create jams or slam into the St. Mary's Road bridge and cause structural damage. But water levels inside the city were just getting too high and low-lying properties along the riverbank were at risk for serious flooding.

The gates are being raised gradually to minimize the diversion of ice into the channel and hold river levels inside Winnipeg at 5.6 metres above normal winter levels.

There were predictions the levels in the city could reach 6.2 metres without the floodway being used, with the possibility that it could surge higher due to ice jams.

The control gates are stored in an area below the level of the riverbed and are raised to block the water flow into the city. That forces the water back into the floodway diversion channel.