Manitoba dike breach postponed

A controlled breach of a dike along the Assiniboine River has been postponed, the Manitoba government said Wednesday.

A controlled breach of a dike along the Assiniboine River has been postponed, the Manitoba government said Wednesday.

Earlier Wednesday, provincial officials had said the breach would take place at 8 a.m. CT Thursday, but they have decided to take a wait-and-see approach as they monitor conditions. Now, the breach is not expected to occur before noon.

The province initially said on Tuesday that 150 homes could be affected by the release, but at least one municipal official said as many as 300 houses and some of the province's most fertile farmland could be swamped.

"Residents in the area should be on a high level of alert for possible evacuation," the Manitoba government stated in a flood bulletin issued Wednesday morning.

"This planned release would cause overland flooding in the area but it would be a slow and controlled release of water that would slowly move through the area.

"Homes that would be the first to be impacted by the release have already been evacuated and are being protected with flood tubes that are being placed by 100 Canadian Forces soldiers."

Breach could happen sooner, or not at all

The release is still not guaranteed to happen, however.

It will only be undertaken if the Portage Diversion  is unable to handle higher flows or if the Assiniboine River dikes between Portage la Prairie are at a serious risk of breaching and causing significant, uncontrolled flooding, the provincial release stated.

That said, the release could also happen sooner "if a serious problem that could cause a breach on the dikes occurs at any time between now and tomorrow morning," the province said.

"If this happens, notification will be provided as soon as possible, but residents should be prepared to leave on short notice if necessary."

Danny Kreklewich gazes over his property early Wednesday, wondering how much could be flooded by a controlled breach of a dike holding back the Assiniboine River. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

The controlled spill would happen at the Hoop and Holler Bend, about midway between the hamlets of Southport and Newton, southeast of Portage la Prairie.

If it goes ahead, the plan is to take out a portion of the dike and fill the gap with a pile of limestone boulders. The rocks would then be removed, bit by bit, controlling the release of water from the river.

"And then as the situation improves we're going to close it off as quickly as we can. So we'll put rock back in to close it off," said Steve Topping, executive director of Mantioba Water Stewardship.

'Uncharted territory'

The spill will threaten an area 225 square kilometres wide southeast of Portage la Prairie. It will also flow into the La Salle River basin, swelling that river and putting properties along it at risk.

The release of water is necessary because many dikes are stressed from the pressure of the river. Should they fail, there could be more catastrophic uncontrolled flooding over a wider 500-square-kilometre area, said Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton.

Premier Greg Selinger said this is "uncharted territory" for the Assiniboine, which has never been so high. Officials on Tuesday described the Assiniboine River flood of 2011 as a once-in-300-year event.

Approximately 100 Canadian Forces soldiers are working to protect 39 properties in a spillover path from the Portage Diversion's east and west banks, as the channel is full to the brim.

Suffering an 'act of government'

"This is just unbelievable," said Danny Kreklewich, who lives in the potential flood zone in the Rural Municipality of Portage la Prairie.

Crews work at cutting through the dike at Hoop and Holler Bend, southeast of Portage la Prairie. (Michael Fazio/CBC)

"It's unbelievable that the government would do this to us. You know, people in the other RMs are suffering from an act of God, in terms of the flood, which is very unfortunate.

"But we're not suffering from an act of God; we're suffering from an act of government when they actually intentionally are going to destroy our property."

Kreklewich said he is contemplating a class-action lawsuit depending on what kind of compensation the government provides in the event his property is flooded out.

"I mean, when we built our house, we built it in a place and at a height and in a way that was supposed to be safe from everything. And it should have and would have been safe," he said.

Dean Melnic, who lives not far from where the dike is being cut, said he is frustrated by the lack of information from the government — but he agrees with the manoeuvre.

"We haven't been told nothing, that's the problem. We're sitting here, we're waiting and no information whatsoever," he said. "We keep listening to the radio and getting our information from there."

Melnic has moved most of his farm equipment, hay, livestock and some racehorses off his property in preparation for the controlled spill.

"It's very unfortunate, but at the end of the day I think they're making the right decision," he said.

"Unfortunately, people are going to be affected, but on the whole I think you have to look at the bigger picture."

With files from The Canadian Press