Flood 2017: Manitoba's hotspots and where the worst is yet to come

So far, the 2017 flood season has brought southern and central Manitoba a mix of the surprising and the mundane, thanks to ice jams that create sudden trouble spots and perennially problematic rivers just being themselves.

Flood season a mix of the surprising and the mundane from ice jams to problematic rivers

The Morris River laps against Highway 3, southwest of Brunkild. (Kim Kaschor/CBC)

When the low-capacity Fisher River spills over its banks at Peguis, flood forecasters call it spring. But it's a lot stranger to see the normally placid Boyne River threaten homes in Carman, Man.

So far, the 2017 flood season has brought southern and central Manitoba a mix of the surprising and the mundane, thanks to ice jams that create sudden trouble spots and perennially problematic rivers just being themselves.

Here's where the flooding is the worst right now, where it's no longer a major threat — and where it's most likely to worsen in the coming days and weeks.

Who's in the thick of it

On Monday, Carman dealt with unusual water on the Boyne River, which spills off the Manitoba Escarpment before it flows through the town. It normally poses no trouble because of the Norquay Channel, a 119-year-old artificial drain that connects the Boyne to the Morris River.

This season, ice has reduced the channel's capacity, leading the river to flow above its banks just upstream, in the middle of town. Unlike regular river flooding, which is more or less predictable, ice-induced flooding tends to give municipalities less time to react.

Ice jams have also caused problems along the Swan River, Pipestone Creek and Netley Creek near Lake Winnipeg.

Conventional flooding on the Fisher River has displaced 135 people at Peguis First Nation, where the absence of permanent flood protection has led to frequent evacuations over the past decade. Evacuations are also underway at Sioux Valley Dakota Nation on the Assiniboine River.

Overland flooding has also inundated agricultural properties in the municipalities of Grassland, Prairie Lakes, Brenda-Waskada and Two Borders in southwestern Manitoba, the south-central municipalities of Grey and Dufferin and in the southeastern R.M. of La Broquerie.

Who's out of the woods

With the Red River largely free of ice, the floodway operating and sun in the forecast for days, the City of Winnipeg likely is already facing the worst of what 2017 has to offer.

As of 11 a.m. Monday, the Red stood at 19.2 feet above normal winter ice level at James Avenue, down from the seasonal peak of 19.4 feet James, experienced on Saturday morning.

Two of the Red's major tributaries, the Roseau River and the Pembina River, have already crested south of the U.S. border, according to the U.S. National Weather Service.

But the main stem of the Red may not have crested, as the National Weather Service is projecting a crest at Pembina, N.D. on April 5 or 6.

This means the Red River in Winnipeg is unlikely to recede significantly for a while. The sandbag dikes in place at approximately two dozen low-lying Winnipeg properties will remain as a precaution for at least a couple of weeks. 

As the Assiniboine River crest approaches, it's also possible a handful of Winnipeg properties along the Assiniboine and on the Red north of The Forks will also require precautionary protection.​

Flooding yet to come

In the leadup to this spring flood, provincial hydrologic forecasting director Fisaha Unduche singled out the Souris River in southwestern Manitoba as the waterway most likely to experience major flooding this spring.

The Souris starts in Saskatchewan, curves down into North Dakota and then swings back into Manitoba, where it flows past the towns of Melita, Hartney, Souris and Wawanesa on its way to the Assiniboine River.

According to Manitoba Infrastructure, flows on the Souris only started increasing significantly in the final days of March. On April 1, the river was flowing at Melita, Souris and Wawanesa at or near the record volume for that calendar date.

This is why most of the attention remains on the Souris, as well as the lower Assiniboine River, downstream of the confluence with the Souris.

Before the flooding started, Unduche pegged the risk of flooding along the lower Assiniboine as moderate to major. The province is already diverting roughly half of the Assiniboine's flow into Lake Manitoba through the Portage Diversion.

About the Author

Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Before joining CBC Manitoba, Bartley Kives spent most of his career in journalism at the Winnipeg Free Press, covering politics, music, food, the environment and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.