City activates flood pumps as Red River rises to highest fall level in recent memory
Red River Floodway may be activated as early as Wednesday morning, says hydrologic forecast centre
The Red River is higher in Winnipeg right now than it has been during any fall over the past half century — and potentially a lot longer.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Red River rose to 14 feet above normal winter ice level at James Avenue. That is the highest fall level for the Red in Winnipeg since 1971, when Environment Canada's dataset begins, city wastewater manager Chris Carroll said.
The same day, the province's hydrologic forecast centre reported the Red River Floodway may be activated as early as Wednesday morning as it monitors a system forecast to bring lots of rain and snow to the Winnipeg area starting Thursday and continuing into the weekend.
The Red is expected to crest within the city at 14.6 feet James, which is a trickle below the informal level for a minor flood.
"It is a concern. It is something we're keeping an eye on," Carroll said Tuesday in an interview. "However, the current levels and at least the near-term levels we're working with are far below the levels we saw in the springtime, so we're well positioned to deal with what's coming our way."
Fourteen feet James is high enough for the city to begin activating flood pumping stations and deploy temporary pumps, Carroll said.
Winnipeg's combined sewers are at a higher risk of backing up when the river is high and heavy rainfall or snowmelt pours into the city's land-drainage system.
The last time the Red was close to this height during the fall was in 2010, when it crested at 13.4 feet James on Nov. 7, according to city records.
Flood fears across southern Manitoba
As southern Manitoba braces for more rain — and possibly snow — the province's chief flood forecaster says the rare scenario of fall flooding is a harsh reality right now.
Just eight days into October, the south has already surpassed the normal amount of rain for the entire month," said Fisaha Unduche, director of Manitoba Hydrologic Forecast Centre.
"And that's without even counting how much is going to come," he said.
Winnipeg received more than three times the normal amount in September while some other areas had as much as seven times the normal levels of precipitation.
Southeastern Manitoba, particularly the area south of Steinbach, has been suffering the most. Earlier this month, the Rural Municipality of La Broquerie, about 70 km southeast of Winnipeg, declared a state of local emergency due to overland flooding and washed-out roads.
"Usually in October it's supposed to be very quiet but we are in this situation this year," Unduche said on Tuesday, as the province announced that a high water advisory continues for all areas along the Whiteshell lakes, and the south and southeastern portion of the province.
While the levels on rivers and lakes in southern Manitoba remain within their banks for the time being, there is a lot of overland flooding because the ground is so saturated, Unduche said.
"Everywhere south of Winnipeg … the levels are very high for this time of year, and that's unusual for October."
The Interlake Region of the province as well as western and northern ares, however, have been spared from the deluge and are in good shape, Unduche said.
In Winnipeg on Tuesday, the Red River was measuring 14 feet at James Avenue. The normal summer level is 6.5 feet.
The Assiniboine River was at 14.6 at Osborne Avenue. The walkway along the river sits at 8.5 feet.
The Red at James Avenue is forecast to reach between 13.9 and 14.6 feet, with the peak between Oct. 11 and 13, according to the province.
That could change, however, depending on what this week brings. A Colorado low coming up from the United States to hit the province by Thursday morning.
The low-pressure system has the potential to bring heavy rain or heavy snow that could continue into the weekend.
The system could also soak the United States portion of the Red River basin, which all drains into Manitoba, the province warned.
"We'll continue looking at this as it develops. But certainly it's a major system coming," Unduche said.
Rosalie Stelmack had to pause to swallow the pressure to cry when she heard that news.
"That's very upsetting. That's what we were hoping not to hear, unfortunately."
Stelmack, who lives in Marchand, a small community in the RM of La Broquerie, runs a non-profit volunteer group called See a Need, Fill a Need which has been working around the clock in the past couple of weeks.
The group help people struggling to protect their homes and personal belongings, lending hand to move items, clear out basements and sheds, and build sandbag dikes.
Water has been flooding into basements of homes throughout the RM, finding its way through foundations and pipes, Stelmack said.
"It's going in through the ground so there's no way that we can stop it," she said.
Many people in nearby Zhoda, about 25 kilometres south of Marchand, can't even leave because there's more than 40 roads washed out, she said.
"It's fall, this is unprecedented for us here. I don't think that any of us were really fully prepared, or even expecting it would get this bad," she said.
"Because it's Manitoba we do expect something similar to this to happen in spring, of course. And we're prepared to combat that with relative ease because we know it's coming."
Unduche said it is too early to tell if all this precipitation will cause a major flood in the spring. He noted, though, the last time the rivers came close to being this high in the fall was in 2010, before the flooding of the spring of 2011.
The amount of snow through the winter, the rate of melt and the amount of precipitation in the spring are all factors that will impact the spring flood situation.
"So we are not too concerned now but we continue monitoring the basic conditions and [will] come up with forecasts as needed," Unduche said.
With files from Bartley Kives