Manitoba

As water rises, Whiteshell resident says he's 'never seen anything close' in 60 years

While the May long weekend is usually an exciting time for campers or cottagers in Whiteshell Provincial Park, many can't get there this year because of overland flooding and evacuation orders.

Province declared state of emergency in Whiteshell Provincial Park on Friday due to dangerous conditions

George Daniel checks out the flooding around his property on West Hawk Lake. The 68-year-old says his dock is under two feet of water. Last year at the same time, the water was three feet below his deck. (Submitted by George Daniel)

While the May long weekend is usually an exciting time for campers and cottagers in Whiteshell Provincial Park, many can't get there this year because of overland flooding covering highways in eastern Manitoba and evacuation orders.

On Friday, the province declared a local state of emergency for the Whiteshell Provincial Park due to rapidly rising water levels leading to dangerous conditions there.

George Daniel lives on West Hawk Lake, which is just west of the Manitoba-Ontario border in the Whiteshell area. Three years ago, he moved from Winnipeg to a peninsula on West Hawk, where his family has owned the cabin for decades.

This year, Daniel needs hip waders to get out to his dock. Rubber boots won't cut it.

"I've been in my boat and picking up floating gas cans and pieces of dock," the 68-year-old said Saturday. 

"Right after the ice went out, there was a floating dock that had become dislodged from where it was meant to be, and it had a 14-foot aluminum boat upside down on top of the dock stored for the winter. The whole thing appeared in front of my cottage."

The dock of a property on West Hawk Lake is fully submerged. Whiteshell Provincial Park is under a state of emergency due to rapidly deteriorating and dangerous flooding conditions. (Submitted by George Daniel)

Daniel says 2016 was a bad year for flooding, prompting cabin owners to build up their docks, but this year is worse.

"Those people built their docks considerably higher in an attempt to never be underwater again. And even those docks that were built almost comically high are under a foot of water," he said.

"In the 60 years I've been here, I've never seen anything close to as high."

The Crescent Beach area on West Hawk Lake is pictured on Saturday. The parking area is cordoned off and the beach is under water. (Emily Brass/CBC)

He expects the costs of the damage will be high, with most of the docks in the area either severely damaged or a complete writeoff.

Some people aren't able to get to their cottages to check out the damage because Highway 312, from just east of Highway 44 to the Ontario border, has been closed for much of the month due to water on the road.

Highway 307, from Highway 309 to Nutimik Lake, is also closed due to water on the road, the province's highways website says.

Water rising along Winnipeg River

Northwest of the West Hawk Lake, people in the Winnipeg River basin are also being affected by flooding.

Nutimik Lodge owners Allison Thiessen and her husband, Harry, started sandbagging recently to protect their restaurant and garage from encroaching water.

"We're absolutely shocked because we've never seen it like this. I've been out here for the 36 years and never seen it like this, but feeling absolutely heartbroken for people who have it worse than us," she said.

The beach at Nutimik Lodge is under water on Saturday, as flooding continues to affect Whiteshell Provincial Park. (Submitted by Allison Thiessen)

To the west of Nutimik, Linday Oster's family has a cottage in Otter Falls, near Margaret Lake. She says she wouldn't call this long weekend a "holiday."

"We are just trying to protect the cottage as much as we can. We've got water underneath our cottage already … and we're just trying to sandbag and do the best we can," she said.

"It's a big mess."

On Friday, Manitoba Parks ordered the evacuation of an area around Betula Lake, just south of Thiessen's lodge, including all cottage subdivisions and commercial, group use, day use, recreational and picnic areas.

People place sandbags around a cottage on Eleanor Lake in the Whiteshell on Saturday. (Radjaa Abdelsadok/SRC)

But the province says residents in areas near Betula Lake are also advised to be prepared to evacuate their homes due to rapidly rising water levels.

Manitoba Hydro also issued a warning for parts of the western Whiteshell on Friday, including Nutimik, Dorothy, Margaret and Sylvia lakes, as well as Eight Foot, Silver and Powerview-Pine falls.

Hydro said due to increased water flows after record spring rains and heavy winter snowpack, the Lake of the Woods Control Board was forced to make an outflow from Lake of the Woods and Lac Seul into the Winnipeg River.

The Crown corporation said that means Winnipeg River property owners will see water levels rise over the next 10 to 15 days by roughly these amounts:

  • 1.2 feet upstream of Eight Foot Falls.
  • 2.1 feet in Nutimik Lake.
  • 1.9 feet in Dorothy Lake.
  • 2.2 feet in Margaret Lake.
  • 2.3 feet in Sylvia Lake.
  • One foot upstream of Silver Falls.
  • One foot upstream of Powerview-Pine Falls.

The Winnipeg River is forecast to crest in early June.

Property owners are advised to secure their docks and move items near the water to higher ground, including boats and floatation devices.

Boaters should be aware that the rate of water flow will be much higher than last year, Hydro warned.

It also advised extreme caution for anyone boating near generating stations, because spillways are open and safety booms could not be installed due to the rapid increase in flows.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. Email story ideas to rachel.bergen@cbc.ca.

With files from Erin Brohman and Radjaa Abdelsadok

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