Manitoba flood: Officials express 'cautious optimism' about 2nd crest

Manitoba flood officials are breathing easier today as the first crest on the Assibiniboine River is nearly in Winnipeg and the dikes have held.

Quick mobilization by Canadian military help prepare communities as dikes hold

Residents in St. Lazare, Man., have been fighting floodwaters for nearly two weeks, but they got help from the provincial government on Wednesday night, just as the Assiniboine River was cresting in the area. 1:57

Manitoba flood officials are breathing easier today as the first crest on the Assibiniboine River is nearly in Winnipeg and the dikes have held.

"How I'd describe where we're at today, I'd say is probably a sense of cautious optimism," Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said.

Communities along the swollen river went from unprepared to ready in just four days, as a result of a quick mobilization, he said, noting there's no way the province would have been ready without the 500 members of the Canadian Armed Forces, who may soon see their deployment reduced.

"I want to put on the record again, they were there for us. Thank you to the military, you did it again," Ashton said.

The worries are not completely over, however, because a second crest on the Assiniboine has started rising in western Manitoba.

The provincial government and military members are working with municipalities along the Assiniboine and are on standby in case anything, like a breach, happens.

The military's Aurora aircraft actually detected several leaks in the dikes during the night and crews were immediately dispatched to fix them, provincial officials said on Thursday.

Province revises 2nd crest again

The second crest is moving into the province as run-off from tributaries along the Assiniboine in both Saskatchewan and Manitoba flows into the river.

That crest is expected to reach St. Lazare, ​located near the Saskatchewan border at the forks of the Assiniboine and Qu'Appell rivers, on Thursday or Friday.

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      Many homes in the community are protected by a dike, which stands 1.3 metres higher than the 2011 flood level, but some are located outside the dike.

      Of those, nine are experiencing flooding or seepage and three have been damaged by floodwaters from the first crest, the province said.

      The province updated the forecast for the second crest of the Assiniboine River in Brandon late Thursday afternoon.

      And predictions are approaching peak flows in the 2011 flood.

      Late Thursday, officials said they are now predicting peak flows of 34,000 to 36,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) between Friday and July 13.  

      In 2011, peak flows on the Assiniboine in Brandon were 36,700 cfs. 

      Officials said they expect those flows to last for a day or two before tapering off. 

      Forecasts of the second crest at the Portage Diversion have also been revised.

      Officials said peak flows of 46,000 to 47,500 cfs are now expected between July 14 and 16 lasting a day or two. 
      Peak flows in 2011 in Portage were 53,100 cfs.

      Provincial officials had said Wednesday the water levels from the second crest will be lower than the first but last for a few days.

      Earlier Thursday, however, they changed their stance, saying the second crest will likely be above first peak but below 2011 levels.

      "The forecast is for nothing like we saw in 2011," but there are concerns now for the Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin areas, Ashton said, echoing Blight's remarks.

      The latest revision puts the revised forecast much closer to 2011 levels.

      Officials said the crest should hit Winnipeg about four days after it hits Brandon.

      Dikes hold in first crest 

      The first crest of the river reached the Portage Diversion Wednesday night with a peak flow of 52,100 cfs  — 34,100 cfs through the Portage Diversion while 18,000 cfs remained on the river towards Winnipeg.

      That 52,100 cfs is like 35 Olympic-sized swimming pools going by each minute. On average, the flow rate of the river is only 1,600 cfs.

      The Assiniboine River starts in Saskatchewan near the community of Preeceville and ends 1,070 kilometres away in Winnipeg, where it merges with the Red River. (CBC)
      Kam Blight, reeve of the Rural Municipality of Portage la Prairie, said there have been no issues with leaks in his RM but the concern now is if any strong winds come along, whipping the water and putting more strain on the dikes.

      Until Thursday, the biggest worry had been in the Delta Beach area, which is vulnerable to winds and waves from Lake Manitoba. Levels on the lake have been rising due to the water from the Portage Diversion being emptied into it. 

      The diversion is a 29-kilometre channel that redirects floodwaters from the Assiniboine north to Lake Manitoba.

      But despite the water coming in, the RM has lifted its mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders for Delta Beach properties located along the diversion. The order was originally put in place due to concerns residents could be cut off by water on the roads. 

      Delta Beach residents skeptical flood flight over

      But some residents said the flood flight is far from over there.

      Jody Fletcher, who has been a permanent resident in Delta Beach for 21 years, refused to leave after the evacuation order. She said it's a small relief that the evacuation order is over, for now. But she thinks it could be reinstated.

      "If I was a betting person I'd say there's about a 75 per cent chance that sometime between now and freeze-up, we'll have to go," she said. "The only solution to this is the permanent channel at the other end of the lake. This is not going to go away."

      Fletcher said she's still worried that strong north winds on the lake will raise water levels at Delta Beach.

      She said after the 2011 flood, her family placed massive boulders on the beach to protect their property against the wind and waves.

      Fletcher said now, because the water is so high, the boulders look tiny. 

      And instead of the quiet her family used to appreciate at the lake, there is now only the roar of the wind on the water.

      Fletcher said she hopes Winnipeggers appreciate what farmers and property owners on the lakes are going through to keep them dry. 

      Forgotten by the province

      St. Lazare has been dealing with high water on both the Assiniboine and Qu'Appelle Rivers since June 30 and only on Wednesday night did the province send in sandbags to help.

      "They came out yesterday [Tuesday] and it was so nice to see all the help that came out. I don't know offhand who organized it, but it was really nice to see volunteers from town come and sandbag to help," said Giselle Fouillard, whose home is surrounded by water.

      I don't know what to believe anymore, I just believe what [I see]. I go out and look at my wall of my shop — my own personal gauge — that's what I believe.- Owen Jessop, St. Lazare resident

      Many people in the area have expressed anger on social media, saying they’ve been forgotten by the province.

      But CAO Ricky Fouillard said the village didn't ask for help from the province until Wednesday.

      Up until then, village officials figured they could handle the flood water on their own, he said.

      They were keeping track of the water coming in from Saskatchewan and the overland flooding, and they were making sandbags for the community, but it just became too much, Fouillard said.

      Owen Jessop, who lost his home to flooding in 2011, rebuilt on a pad raised about two metres higher than his old home. He is surrounded by water again, and the level is nearly up to his pad.

      He and others in the community are waiting for information from the province about how high the water will get. But he’s not even sure what to make of any information they get.

      “ I don't know what to believe anymore, I just believe what [I see]. I go out and look at my wall of my shop — my own personal gauge — that's what I believe," he said.

      Torrential rains

      The flooding has been caused by torrential rains during the Canada Day weekend in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

      Fifty municipalities and communities across Manitoba, mainly in the southwest and Interlake regions, have declared a state of local emergency since June 28, and 729 people have been forced from their homes and communities due to flooding in the province this year.

      Combined with states of local emergency in Saskatchewan, there have been more than 110 municipalities under that banner, while the Manitoba government has declared a provincial state of emergency.

      In addition to the Canadian Armed Forces, more than 330 staff from Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation, 20 staff from other government departments, 115 provincial department volunteers, ‎120 Manitoba Hydro volunteers and 75 redeployed forest firefighters from across the province are supporting the flood-fighting efforts in Manitoba.

      Staff from the Alberta Emergency Management Agency are also providing assistance.

      With files from The Canadian Press