Flood outlook forecasts relief for Manitobans

The coming spring in southern Manitoba is looking a whole lot drier than it did one year ago, but there's still the chance of high water in the north and even drought conditions.

Drought is also a possibility this year, officials warn

Manitoba's senior provincial flood forecaster Philip Mutulu speaks to reporters on Thursday. (Oumelkheir Djenaidi/CBC)

The coming spring in southern Manitoba is looking a whole lot drier than it did one year ago, but there's still the chance of high water in the north and drought conditions later this year.

The Manitoba government released its first flood outlook of 2012 and it says the risk is low for the Red and Souris rivers, moderate for the Pembina and Assiniboine rivers and in the southern Interlake region.

Flooding was extensive across all of those areas in 2011 and the government is still working on recovery efforts.

The forecast notes, however, that significant precipitation through the spring could result in localized flooding, including some portions of the upper Assiniboine and Souris river basins.

The chances of minor, localized flooding due to ice jams or snow blockages in drains, ditches and small streams is also fairly low.

And major ice jams on rivers are unlikely, provincial officials said, but added the possibility cannot be ruled out, especially in the Interlake region.

'New normal'

Infrastructure Minister Steve Ashton said weather patterns are changing, so the province needs to be prepared despite what the forecast says so far.

"The new normal is certainly indicating we have to be on guard for greater severity of weather events," Ashton told reporters Thursday.

"So even in a year like this, where there's certainly less flood risk than there was last year or even the year before, it doesn't mean we can relax or let down our guard."

Provincial officials say some flooding is likely in northern Manitoba, including The Pas, where there has been significant snowfall and the soil-moisture conditions are above average.

Officials wanted to underscore the fact that the forecast is tentative and "still very dependent on weather conditions from now until the spring melt."

The amount of additional precipitation, the timing and rate of the spring thaw, and the timing of peak flows in Manitoba, the U.S. and other provinces will have a significant effect on flood potential.

Preparing for two scenarios

Steve Topping, executive director of Manitoba Water Stewardship, said the province is still dealing with the impacts of last spring's widespread flooding.

At the same time, the province has had record low precipitation levels this past fall, he added.

"Since July of last year we've had minimal precipitation and unseasonably warm weather," Topping said.

"The end result is we need to prepare for both the drought scenario and also the flood scenario."

Ashton said within a few kilometres of areas around Lake Manitoba that flooded, some producers have been talking lately about bone-dry conditions.

"Yep, it's Manitoba. We can have floods and we could have droughts and forest fires all in the same year, often all in the same region," the minister said.

Forecast to be updated next month

Topping said the province is keeping water levels high in the Shellmouth Reservoir, in case it is needed for irrigation, domestic and municipal purposes.

Manitoba's flood forecast will be updated in late March, when further precipitation and weather details are available.

In the meantime, the province plans to continue its recovery from 2011. To date, more than $500 million has been provided in flood recovery assistance through various programs, officials said.

The cost of the 2011 flood had reached $815 million at the last tally in December, and some rural Manitobans left homeless are still waiting for temporary houses promised by the government.

The province has also created a $100-million emergency channel to drain flood water from two swollen Manitoba lakes.