Manitoba

1997's 'Z-dike' showcased province's flood-fighting machine

A decade ago, the province pulled out all the stops to build the massive "Z-dike" to keep the rising Red River from making an end run around flood-fighting defences in southern Winnipeg — but today, officials say, such a dike would not be needed.

A decade ago, the province pulled out all the stops to build the massive "Z-dike" to keep the rising Red River from making an end run around flood-fighting defences in southern Winnipeg — but today, officials say, such a dike would not be needed.

Well into 1997's "flood of the century," provincial officials suddenly realized the city of Winnipeg faced a new risk: if the Red River backed up into the La Salle River, the city could flood from the west, around the defences that protected it from the south.
The 'Z-dike,' built in 1997 to hold back high water on the Red River, stretched 42 kilometres from Domain to Brunkild. ((CBC))

In a move that showcased the scope of Manitoba's flood-fighting machine, the province erected the 42-kilometre Brunkild "Z-dike" to fend off the high water.

Hundreds of loads of crushed rock were trucked in to build the Z-dike, which zigzagged across roads and farmers' fields from Domain to Brunkild. Every available bulldozer and backhoe in the province was put to work, piling up rocks and clay.

Don Kuryk, who was in charge of the dike's construction, said they managed to get the eight-metre dike built before the floodwaters arrived. The hasty construction took about three weeks.

But eventhen, Kuryk recalls, there were still concerns about forecast strong winds and the waves that would be created. The military was brought in to strengthen the dike with sandbags, straw and plastic.

Then Kuryk had dozens of derelict school buses and vans towed in to top up the structure.

"The buses were there to dissipate the energy of the waves," he said."It would stop the water from going over."

Not used, but still necessary

In the end, huge volumes of flood water did not reach the Z-dike.Still, Kuryk is adamant the dike was needed.
The massive Brunkild 'Z-dike' dwarfs vehicles used in its construction south of Winnipeg in the spring of 1997. ((CBC))

So is Larry Whitney, who was head of water resources for the province.

"Water did wet the Z-dike in parts of it," Whitney said."At one point, the original west dike was about six inches from the top."

After the flood, Kuryk recalls, his department received dozens of cards and letters from Winnipeggers thanking the province for its efforts building the dike.

The province later dismantled the $10-million Z-dike. Today, there's no visible sign of it.

But Kuryk says provincial road 305, which the Z-dike followed for much of its route, has been raised above 1997 flood levels.

"We would have built it that way in the first place, but we just didn't have the time," he said.

"The water was coming too quick.We needed to get up into higher ground."

If such a flood struck again, Kuryk said, another Z-dike would not be needed.

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