Manitoba foresees moderate to major flood potential

The Manitoba government's latest spring flood forecast calls for a moderate to major risk of flooding among a number of provincial waterways.

Water levels expected to be around 2009 levels, forecast says

Manitoba government's latest spring flood forecast calls for a moderate to major risk of flooding among a number of waterways. 1:49

The Manitoba government's latest spring flood forecast calls for a moderate to major risk of flooding among a number of provincial waterways.

The revised forecast, released on Tuesday, indicates an increased risk of flooding along the Red, Souris, Pembina, Saskatchewan, Qu’Appelle and Assiniboine rivers and in the Interlake area.

Provincial flood forecaster Phillip Mutulu said a heavy March snowfall and an above-average snowpack with a high water content contributed to the elevated risk.

Mutulu said low temperatures are preventing frost in the ground from melting.

The province likely won’t see water levels reach those of the 2011 flood, though, according to Mutulu.

"This is Manitoba. We’re not taking anything for granted. It’s clear we’re going to be into flooding this spring," Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton told reporters in Winnipeg on Tuesday.

Ashton said the province received up to 200 per cent of the normal amount of precipitation. As a result, evacuations in a number of communities are likely.

"Nobody is pressing any panic buttons," he said. "We’re going to do whatever we can."

Ashton added the flood forecast was trending toward 2009 levels, not 2011, with the "possible exception of Red Deer Lake."

Portage Diversion to be used

Steve Topping, who works with the province’s water management division, said both the Portage Diversion and the Red River Floodway would be opened, regardless of what weather is seen in the coming weeks.

"We utilize the Portage Diversion to manage ice levels east of Portage," said Topping.

He added the province could see a rapid melt and as a result "the ice jam potential in Manitoba is very high."

Despite the possibility for a high melt, Topping said it was unlikely waters would top 2011 levels.

Topping said Lake Manitoba will be 1.2 metres below the 2011 level. Lake Winnipeg is forecast to be 0.6 metres below the 2011 level.

There is at least one lake that could top 2011 levels, Topping said.

"Red Deer Lake could see record flooding levels this year," he explained, adding that the area will have the potential for evacuations as a result.

Ashton said the province is going to "aim to minimized disruption in terms of daily life."

He said officials have already been in contact with chiefs of a number of First Nations in the province to discuss the increased risk of flooding.

Preparations underway

Communities across southern Manitoba have already begun preparing for flood waters. St. Clements, Selkirk and other areas have started sandbagging and purchasing flood-prevention implements.

South of the border, flood warnings are being raised in communities on the Souris River in North Dakota.

The Souris flows from Saskatchewan to Minot, N.D., and then loops back into Manitoba near Melita.

Saskatchewan recently released water from the Rafferty Alameda Dam into the river, causing water levels to rise.

Tammy Hanson, who lives south of the U.S. border on the Souris, said water levels rose "overnight, pretty much."

She said the river looks to be about halfway to its flood point already, and she worries there won’t be any room for spring runoff.

"The river was dry all winter long, and now all of a sudden it’s half full from the releases," said Hanson.

"It’s going to start melting, so I don’t know. I hope there’s room for it all."

Hanson said the possibility of ice jams in the area also worries her.

'Huge loss and devastation'

The latest flood forecast says with bad weather, Lake Manitoba could exceed its normal levels.

However, the lake is not expected to rise as high as it did in 2011, when Jack King's home in the Twin Lakes Beach area was destroyed by flooding.

"We've been through a huge loss and devastation. It's subtracted a year from our lives," said King, who was only able to move back to the area last September.

"We just don't want to entertain the possibility that we have to go through this again."

King said it's too early in the season for him to put any faith in Tuesday's flood forecast.

"I don't really have a lot of confidence. I'm trying to be optimistic at this point," he said.

Major highway could close again

South of Winnipeg, flooding could result in the closure of Highway 75, a major roadway that leads to the U.S. border.

The ring dike around the town of Morris will likely be closed, meaning portions of the highway would be under water.

Morris Mayor Gavin van der Linde said he's confident the town will be safe, since it is protected to 1997 flood levels plus 60 centimetres [two feet], but the flood will hurt business.

"The part that impacts us the most is the closure of Highway 75," van der Linde told CBC News.

"Inside town, we haven't been flooded for over 60 years — we've got a very good dike system — but the closure of the highway is really what affects us as a community."

The Manitoba Trucking Association says Highway 75 was closed for 36 days during the 2009 flood, resulting in long and costly detours for truckers.

The industry lost about $1.5 million a week that year due to flood-related detours along major routes, said Terry Shaw, the association's general manager.

"Extra fuel being consumed means things like extra greenhouse gases, et cetera," he said.

"There are hours of service considerations. Drivers are only able to drive for 11 hours down south if they're spending extra hours just trying to get down there."

Truckers warned to prepare

Shaw said he is warning members to prepare for flooding on par with 2009 levels.

Flood-related detours along Highway 75 in 2009 and 2011 cost the industry a total of $13 million, according to the association.

Mike Hinchey of Paul Brandt Trucking in Morris said the last time Highway 75 was closed, it added one to 1½ hours to transport times.

"When we're dealing with passenger vehicles it's one thing; you find a different road. When you're dealing with heavy equipment, you've got to stay on legal routes," he said.

Hinchey said the I-29 on the U.S. side of the border has been shored up to withstand 2009 flood levels, but the Manitoba government has been making slow progress in doing to same for Highway 75.

"We're looking forward to the days when this highway is mitigated against these types of floods," he said.

Shaw said the main problem is the Morris Bridge, which he said is too low to handle flood waters.