Manitoba

Province asks public for input on emergency flood channel

The debate around whether an emergency flood channel will stay open has different lake community members awash with concerns.

Lake St. Martin Emergency Outlet Channel was built in 2011

The $100-million Lake St. Martin channel, which opened in November 2011, is an emergency outlet to redirect water from Lake St. Martin to Big Buffalo Lake, where it flows naturally into the Dauphin River and eventually into Lake Winnipeg. (Province of Manitoba)

The debate around whether an emergency flood channel will stay open has different lake communities awash with concerns or support.

Last week, the province invited the public to participate in a review process for the interim operation of the Lake St. Martin Emergency Outlet Channel. Manitoba Infrastructure filed an Environment Act proposal to use the channel until the completion of construction on a permanent additional outlet for Lake St. Martin and Lake Manitoba.

The channel was built in 2011 after a flood forced thousands from their homes. It redirects water from Lake St. Martin to Big Buffalo Lake, where it then flows naturally into the Dauphin River and eventually into Lake Winnipeg.

The channel was used between late 2011 and 2012, and again in mid-2014 and 2015 under emergency conditions, a notice from the province said.

"It just makes sense that you would use what you've created. To not do it just seems irresponsible," said Jack King, the president of the Association of Lake Manitoba Stakeholders (ALMS).

Many cottages around Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin were flooded during high water and storms in 2011. (CBC)
ALMS was formed in 2011 to advocate for property owners impacted by the flooding of Lake Manitoba, predominantly on the east side of the lake.

The group has started collecting submissions of support or opposition to the flood channel to send to the government.

King said he thinks opening the channel is the right choice because it will help communities at risk of flooding.

"Everything we can do to keep the water level manageable is obviously in our best interest to do," he said.

However, Helgi Einarsson, mayor of Dauphin River, says if the channel is made operational, his community will be economically devastated.

"The St. Laurent guys and the Lake Manitoba people are only looking at Lake Manitoba," he said.

"They are not looking at the bottom end where we are, where they are dumping all of the water on us, too. We are the final end where the water comes."

He said whenever the flood channel is opened the fish disappear and are replaced by sticks and debris. In 2011, he said the community "lost everything."

"There was no jobs, commercial fishing wasn't on, our community here itself, we were told we weren't part of the flood so we didn't even get any [Disaster Financial Assistance]," he said.

While there does need to be a solution to the flooding, Einarsson said his community has to be a part of the conversation.

Anyone impacted by the operation is asked to contact the province by email before Feb. 27 at bruce.webb@gov.web.ca.

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