Manitoba

Manitoba premier blames Saskatchewan for flood woes

An extremely snowy winter is raising flooding fears on the Prairies as well as tension between Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

'I come from a small farm ... We didn't solve our water problem on the backs of our neighbours', says premier

(CBC)

An extremely snowy winter is raising flooding fears on the Prairies as well as tension between Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says it will be difficult to control flooding if he can't convince Saskatchewan to stop draining water into Manitoba.

"We believe that it's not right. I come from a small farm, as you know, and we didn't solve our water problem on the backs of our neighbours," Pallister said.

"We don't think that Saskatchewan should do that either."

Manitoba often faces flooding due to the Red River flowing into the province from the south and the Assiniboine flowing in from the west. The rivers swell with meltwater along their circuitous routes before they even reach the province.

While the Red River has long been a problem for Winnipeg its threat has largely been addressed by the creation in 1968 of the 48-kilometre floodway channel that diverts water around the city.

The Assiniboine occasionally increased in volume but became a major concern in 2011.

The Assiniboine River flooded a wide swath of land, including this area near Brandon, in 2014. (CBC)

That year, officials put the Portage Diversion into operation for a total of 126 days, according to the province, the first time provincial records show it had been in operation for more than 100 days in a single year.

Built in the late 1960s, the Portage Diversion takes pressure off the Assiniboine by redirecting some water through a 29-kilometre long channel that starts near Portage la Prairie — just west of Winnipeg — and empties into Lake Manitoba.

Both the floodway and Portage Diversion are designed to save the province's capital city but the water is forced through other communities instead.

In the case of the diversion, the extra water during flood operations in 2011 increased lake levels to record heights. Then powerful winds whipped across the swollen body of water, creating large waves that pounded homes on the shores and flooded communities.

In 2014, hydrology experts said the increase in flooding — which happens quite frequently in summer now, too — can be blamed in part on farmers draining prairie wetlands.

Manitoba has been working closely with neighbouring American states on water management and flood mapping but hasn't received the same cooperation from Saskatchewan.

Pallister has met with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall on drainage issues but "Saskatchewan has not to this point, partnered as I would like to see them do," he said.

Pallister is set to release a long-term plan for water management in the province but said much of it will be all washed up without Saskatchewan's help.

Clarifications

  • This story initially indicated the Portage Diversion had been operated for the first time in several years in 2011. In fact, it was the first time it had been operated for more than 100 days in a single year, according to provincial data.
    Jan 20, 2017 12:07 PM CT

With files from Susan Magas

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