Whose flood is it anyway?

There is a shared sentiment coming from the people that I have interviewed during our flood coverage this week.
People living on Lake Manitoba prepared for the worst earlier this week as water poured into the Portage Diversion and fears mounted that high lake levels and strong winds could breach their dikes. (CBC)

There is a shared sentiment coming from the people that I have interviewed during our flood coverage this week.

It is a sentiment that is worth mentioning because it's not one that I heard in 2011... at least not spoken out loud. 

At the heart of this sentiment is the idea that this is OUR flood.  Manitoba's flood.  

It's the idea that there is no such thing as a flood "zone" or a flood "area" and that the only reason that we are not all underwater is because of the sacrifices being made from community to community.  

The sentiment is a cry for some kind of appreciation and acknowledgement.  It asks all of us to think about what we mean when we use the words neighbour, and community. And it's a voice that no longer fears judgment. 

In 2011 there was a palpable fear of judgment.  I remember one producer on Lake Manitoba who told me he didn't want to be interviewed any more because people were sympathetic when they first heard his story and then got sick of hearing it.

He was getting more and more depressed as the water stood on his land for weeks on end.  

Another flooded out resident said she made the mistake of reading online comments calling people like her "whiners" and she was tired of explaining why she couldn't just move.   

Tolerance for 'perimeteritis' low this year

This year however the tolerance for 'perimeteritis' is low. The tolerance for an attitude that could arguably be called urban is waning.  

Here are a few of the people who have made themselves heard on CBC.

Keevn Van Camp from St. Francois Xavier watched volunteers, strangers and friends surround his home on Sunday and sandbag for hours.  He told me what he was thinking as he watched.     

"One of the things that struck me the other day was that too much these days it's 'Me first and to heck with you, Jack'".

Another producer from the area said that a third of his grain farm will be affected this year and he already lost his strawberry farm in 2011.  He also made a point of telling me that the earthen berm that will protect his house this year was built and paid for on his own. As he shared this with me, I couldn't help wondering if he was making the point in anticipation of expected criticism that flood victims somehow take compensation for granted or don't take any responsibility to protect themselves. 

Giselle Fouillard was on the radio too. She is downright frustrated at the province and spoke candidly from her home outside the community of St. Lazare near the Saskatchewan border.  

She said there is "a lack of help, a lack of information. I was getting my information from the Saskatchewan website."  Fouillard continued, "What's frustrating us is they are only concerned about Brandon east. Our premier hasn't even mentioned us, nothing about this area,  but yet they know.  It's like they are gauging what we're going through and they are getting ready for it because of what we're going through. It was a week on Monday that we've had water sitting here." 

And in St. Laurent, a community on the southeast side of Lake Manitoba, councillor Mona Sedleski says she, too, feels forgotten.

"We are just barely getting out of our last flood, our finances as a municipality are just barely out of the red and here we are back sandbagging.  We had asked [Infrastructure] Minister [Steve] Ashton for a meeting as far back as June 6th to discuss this. He ignored us totally. I mentioned that a Lake St. Martin channel will not help us. I know they are very, very busy right now and in a crisis mode all the way down. We have hired local contractors at our own expense. We have asked the province at least to give us an advance so we can pay for some of this stuff."

Again, however, the sentiment goes beyond the financial losses.  

Sedleski said, "I just want people to know that of all the talk of saving the people between Portage and Winnipeg,  the 150 people and the agriculture, we're very happy that they are doing that...but nowhere are they ever mentioning what saving them is going to do to us. All of that water is going to come right at us."  

What do flood fighters want?

So what do the people who are fighting the flood this year want from those of us who do not have immediate concerns?
I mean, what are we supposed to do?  We live in the city, right?  Does it really make a difference how we 'think' about the challenges of others while we sit on our dry decks this summer? 

I believe that the answer to the last question is that it makes a huge difference.   

And while I haven't been able to articulate it myself, Jody Fletcher from Delta Beach did it on CBC this morning. This is what she said:   

"I would just like to suggest that this is not a rural issue. I ask Winnipeggers to understand that this is a human issue. We are your neighbours.  We are just an hour down the road from you and we take the water for Winnipeg. We get it. We understand the ideology of sacrificing the least number to save the masses. But please. I think it's time that you help us. Join our crusade, speak to your politicians. We need this permanent channel built. We will take our share but we can't continue to take all of it."  

Next week we will take Information Radio 89.3 fm live to St. Laurent on the shores of Lake Manitoba on Tuesday morning. We hope you're listening, because as you've read, these stories are important to hear. 

About the Author

Marcy Markusa

Host, Information Radio

Marcy Markusa hosts Information Radio on CBC Radio One 89.3 FM / 990 AM in Winnipeg. Born and raised in the Manitoba capital, Marcy is passionate about the future of our community and loves how it's growing in both confidence and prosperity. She thrives on getting honest and straight-forward answers for listeners and infuses the show with her energetic warmth and sense of humour.