Manitoba forecast eases fears of major flooding during COVID-19 pandemic
Province to release physical distancing measure for sandbaggers later this week
Officials in Manitoba are forecasting the province will avoid major flooding if there is no major early April storm bringing in snow or rain.
Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler says although considerable resources are being dedicated to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, contingency plans are in place if the spring thaw requires high-water management like sandbagging.
Six communities, including Morris and Emerson, could see ring dikes closed to keep back the water.
Some agricultural land will likely be flooded and some roads closed, he added.
Schuler says because of the novel coronavirus, extra protocols are being put in place to ensure supplies in case of flooding and new physical distancing measures for sandbaggers will be released at the end of the week.
"Should we need to have individuals doing sandbagging we will have a protocol in place. It is just being vetted through our various stakeholder groups and at that time it will go live and we'll be giving it to each of the emergency co-ordinators," Schuler said.
WATCH | Easing annual spring flood fears:
The province is also preparing for physical distancing of evacuees due to flooding, but Schuler says officials do not expect that to be an issue.
The weather is a factor in how the flooding situation plays out over the next several weeks. Warm weather producing a rapid thaw or significant amounts of precipitation could affect how much flood protection could be deployed.
The province's March flood outlook takes into account the weather and its impact on water levels:
- Favourable weather: Risk of moderate flooding. Levels would be similar to the peak levels observed in 2019 from Emerson to the Red River Floodway inlet.
- Normal weather: Risk of major flooding. Levels would be similar to the peak levels observed in 2006 (lower than 2011 levels) from Emerson to the Red River Floodway inlet.
- Unfavourable weather: Risk of major flooding. Levels on the Red River main stem would be slightly higher than spring peak levels observed in 2011 from Emerson to Red River Floodway inlet
The flood outlook is still showing that a relatively warm and dry winter has eased annual spring flood fears.
Schuler told reporters on the briefing Tuesday a snow storm for the region later this week would not significantly affect the outlook.
Manitoba's hydrologic forecast centre is reporting water levels like last year, when the Red River Floodway was put into service but Highway 75, which runs from Winnipeg to the United States border, remained open.
The province has made significant investments to mitigate water since the so-called Flood of the Century in 1997, such as ring dikes and diversion ditches to protect homes and businesses.
The City of Winnipeg is in the midst of preparing 250,000 sandbags as a precaution.
Jason Shaw, the city's emergency operations centre manager, told reporters at a briefing Wednesday there were between 50 and 100 properties that could be vulnerable and the city was assessing the most recent forecast to determine which may need flood protection.
With files from CBC's Sean Kavanagh