Manitoba

Hundreds of Winnipeg homes still vulnerable to floods

A decade after the flood of the century, hundreds of Winnipeg homes and properties have still not been flood-proofed to 1997 flood levels, despite millions in government funding intended for that purpose.

A decade after the flood of the century, hundreds of Winnipeg homes and propertieshave still not been flood-proofed to 1997 flood levels, despite millions in government funding intended for that purpose.

Ten years ago Monday, thousands of people in the Red River Valley were frantically preparing for the rapidly rising waters of 1997's flood of the century. In Winnipeg alone, more than six million sandbags were stacked up to protect almost 1,000 properties.

After the flood waters receded, municipal, provincial and federal governments committed $11 million to improve flood protection for homeowners in the city.

But the CBC has learned that many Winnipeggers are no better protected today than they were in 1997.

About 850 properties along the Red and Assiniboine rivers in Winnipeg were potentially eligible for the program.

Much ofthe money was used to build five "community ring dikes," which protect about 200 properties on Kingston Row, Lord Avenue, Kilkenny Drive, Scotia Street and North Drive.

The government funding also paid for dikes to protect six apartment building or condominium projects on the rivers.

Thirteen other Winnipeggers qualified for some financial help to build their own private dike. They had to pay the first $10,000, and the government funding covered the rest of the cost.

Len Sawatzky was one of the 13; he had a unique, $75,000 dike system built to protect his property. Piles of wooden and metal posts and sheets of plywood stacked in Sawatzky's garage can be locked into notches on a concrete sidewalk, forming a wall to keep out high water on the La Salle River.

"I didn't really see that there was any alternative to it, after I had been through the '97 campaign," he told CBC.

Sawatzky hadto paythe full $75,000 of his own money upfront to build the wall, then wait months for the funding to repay the bulk of the cost.Carrying such a debt for several months deterred some potentially qualifying homeowners from taking part, while creating stressful financial situations for others.

But others say they didn't even have the opportunity to consider the idea.

Not enough money for everyone

Further north on the Red River, Glynn Davies was surprised to hear that the government paid for some Winnipeggers' dikes.

Davies' property is so low he has been forced to sandbag it almost every year since 1997— but he was never offered a chance to participate in the government program.He said he'd be willing to pay the $10,000 to protect his home.

"We'd have welcomed anything to keep the water away," he said.

"If they're going to build a big solid one that is absolutely no problem in the future, absolutely, it would be worth it."

City officials told CBC that with only $11 million, the city simply couldn't afford to build a dike for everyone who needed it, so projects had to meet certain qualifications.

While city officials wouldn't comment specifically on Davies' situation, a spokesman said the city tried to prioritize projects, choosing the most vulnerable places on the river while keeping cost-effectiveness in mind.

The city also examined issues such as riverbank stability, the spokesman said, noting that in some places, the riverbanks couldn't support permanent dikes without extensive— and expensive— rehabilitation.

Some Winnipeg property owners may have opted to simply spend the money out-of-pocket to protect their homes; it's not known how many may havepaid for their ownprojects without government funding.

Butin the end, Davies and hundreds of other residents are still at the mercy of the river when it floods.

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