Portage Diversion set for shutdown

Manitoba will soon reach a milestone in its war with water when a major component of the flood fight is shut down.

Manitoba will soon reach a milestone in its war with water when a major component of the flood fight is shut down.

As early as this weekend, the Portage Diversion will cease operating, say provincial water stewardship officials.

The channel, which redirects Assiniboine River floodwater from an inlet near Portage la Prairie to Lake Manitoba 29 kilometres to the north, has been operating since the spring.

Water rushes through the gates of the Portage Diversion on May 10. (Government of Manitoba)

At its peak, the diversion was handling a flow of 34,000 cubic feet per second. Now, the flow is closer to 1,300 cfs as officials wait for the Assiniboine's levels to drop a bit more before closing the diversion inlet.

"We're thinking probably, at the current rate of decline, [it could close] roughly around Saturday or Sunday," said Eugene Kozera, a director with water stewardship.

The channel saved the Winnipeg area from the roaring Assiniboine but the amount of water it fed into Lake Manitoba has caused devastation to many other communities.

The lake reached levels unseen in more than 50 years and winds gusts on several occasions whipped up violent waves and pushed the water far inland.

 Nearly 2,000 people have been forced from their homes and cottages and an estimated 700 properties destroyed.

Most of rancher Tom Teichroeb's land near Langruth, just off the western shores, is under water. He said shutting down the diversion will allow things to begin to return to normal.

"If we're still talking about 10,000-15,000 cfs coming in all summer long we're just flatlining between water coming in and water going out. We want to be going the other way here as much as we possibly can, and the quicker we can the better," he said.

But for Joe Johnson, it's too little too late.

"It's irrelvant. The damage is done," said the farmer who lives near where the diversion empties into Lake Manitoba.

He said 95 per cent of his land is under water.

"We've got water that's almost two miles inland," he said.

In Winnipeg, the shutdown will also have little effect. River levels will drop, but on their own. And they have along way to go.

Grant Mohr, the city's flood engineer, said the Red River within the city limits is still twice as high as normal summer levels. The Assiniboine levels are also exceedingly high.

But both should begin dropping noticeably within the next week, he said.

Mosquito relief

Despite high water levels, much of Winnipeg is extremely dry due to a sizzling month of July. As a result, mosquito breeding grounds have been too dry for eggs to hatch, leading to a slap-free summer for the most part.

However, University of Manitoba entomologist Terry Galloway said that could change quickly. Make no mistake, the eggs are still there and waiting to hatch, he said.

They're just waiting for the right conditions.

"They're waiting there now and if we … get heavy rain for example, in the city of Winnipeg for the rest of the summer we don't have to worry about somewhere there being a shortage of mosquitoes," he said.

"When we get those appropriate conditions those eggs can still hatch."

The eggs can sit dormant, waiting for years to hatch, Galloway said.