'3 in a year and a pandemic': Red River begins cresting in southern Manitoba flood zone

A flood warning and a high water advisory are in effect for the southern Red River Valley as the water levels are starting to crest south of the Canada-U.S. border and in Manitoba.

Communities along the U.S. border already dealing with high water and COVID-19 health emergency

A temporary road-closed sign stands on a provincial road in Manitoba. Flood water from the Red River surrounds each side of the road.
Some southern provincial roads are closed as high water spills over. (Thomas Asselin/CBC)

A flood warning and high water advisory are in effect as the Red River pushes its peak in southernmost Manitoba and communities in the flood zone brace themselves for the third episode in a year.

Communities along the province's border with the U.S. are already dealing with high water levels on Sunday.

The U.S. National Weather Service said on its website "major flooding" is underway at Drayton and Pembina, N.D., as the river is currently cresting at one foot below the height of the 2006 flood.

An online map shows the American weather service has issued a flood warning for areas along the Red River around Fargo as well as Grand Forks up to the Canada-U.S. border.

In a daily flood report, the Manitoba Hydrologic Forecast Centre issued a flood warning from Emerson to the Red River Floodway inlet control structure and a high water advisory from Lockport to Netley Creek.

At Emerson, the water levels are "near peak" Sunday.

High waters are threatening the roads and some people living in southern Manitoba. (Thomas Asselin/CBC)

The emergency coordinator for the Municipality of Emerson-Franklin said the river reached its high point there.

"Today was a happy day for us because we crested here at Emerson probably late yesterday or early this morning," Bill Spanjer said.

He said he is relieved there is no major precipitation in the forecast, and so far water has not spilled over or broken through the dikes, although high water is covering about ten rural roads in the area.

"It certainly could have been a lot worse. It's always one of these things that you hope that Mother Nature plays her cards right and that it doesn't get any more severe than that what is sometimes expected," he said.

"Now it's going north and out of our neck of the woods," he said.

Bill Spanjer, the municipal emergency coordinator, said this is the state of the roads outside dikes in the area as the Red River prepares to reach its peak. (Submitted by Bill Spanjer/RM of Emerson-Franklin)

But the municipality is not totally out of the woods yet. Spanjer said he hopes the springtime breeze does not pick up.

"If you get a south wind, that starts to batter the dike areas and push the water levels up," he said.

Two families have evacuated from their homes due to road access, and another family fled to higher grounds out of anxiety.

"They made the healthy choice," he said.

A flooded field near a river.
Emergency coordinator Bill Spanjer said the Red River has backed up onto what is normally grassy fields to the west, about 250 metres out of its banks, in the municipality of Emerson-Franklin. (Submitted by Bill Spanjer/RM of Emerson-Franklin)

The area reeve said no sandbags had to be thrown down, although some people living outside the community are boating in and out of their homes.

"There's been a couple dike closures and the other river is pretty high there, but Emerson is very well protected," Dave Carlson said.

Road washouts and debris are expected, in addition to overland flooding, he said.

Carlson said the river is particularly backed up west of Dominion City, where the Roseau River merges with the Red River, nearby the Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation.

"It's kind of like a bit of an inland ocean, and so it's cut a few people off for sure," Carlson said, adding that although there have been no mandatory evacuations, high waters can take a toll on farmers' fields.

The reeve said municipal crews will have to clean up ditches and shore up its roads. In 2019, Carlson said that work took about a month and cost about half a million dollars. The municipality hopes the province will have enough money left to fund its Disaster Financial Assistance program as usual, considering the expense of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Unfortunately it's two years in a row, and then we had a fall flood so you know, three in a year and a pandemic, it's just not really been that great," he said.

"But right now everybody's okay, and just kind of weathering the storm."

Meanwhile, some of their western neighbours in the rural municipality of Montcalm have been forced out of homes.

At Morris, the crest is expected Monday or Tuesday.

South of Winnipeg at the Floodway intake, the river is likely to peak Tuesday or Wednesday.

In the city, the water forecast centre estimates the crest will occur sometime between Sunday and Thursday at James Avenue.

The city's website recorded the river at 18.5 feet, which is lower than it was on April 11 since the floodway was activated.

Manitoba Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler wrote in a tweet that he anticipates Highway 75 could stay open with the use of ramps in Morris.

Schuler tweeted his estimates are based on the latest metrics, the expected river levels in the next one to two days and the trace amounts of precipitation in the forecast for the next few days.

With files from Emily Brass and Bartley Kives