Winnipeg flood diversion projects working well

Both the Red and Assiniboine rivers are expected to crest in Winnipeg on Wednesday amid one of the worst floods on record — and Winnipeggers are barely batting an eye as major water diversion projects prove their worth.

Water diversion projects keeping city dry so far

Red River water levels are expected to remain high for weeks. (John Bronevitch/CBC)

Both the Red and Assiniboine rivers are expected to crest in Winnipeg on Wednesday amid one of the worst floods on record — and Winnipeggers are barely batting an eye as major water diversion projects prove their worth.

City flooding engineer Grant Mohr says the Red River Floodway, the Portage Diversion and the Shellmouth Reservoir are saving Winnipeg from the threat of disastrous flooding.

More water is being diverted right now than there is flowing in the Red River, Mohr said.

The Red River Floodway opened in 1968 after a devastating 1950 flood, and was recently expanded. The Portage Diversion (which redirects some of the flow of the Assiniboine) was finished in 1970. The Shellmouth Dam was built in 1972.

Mohr said an upgraded sewer system and higher primary dikes have also helped.

Flood officials can't relax yet, though, as water levels will remain high in the city for weeks.

Officials also said that if there is a heavy rain, many people could see flooded basements.

The crest will be about six metres at the James Avenue monitoring station, about one metre below the 2009 level.

The swollen Red joins with the Assiniboine River in the city's downtown at the Forks, a busy tourist area of shops, performance spaces and a National Park. Many of its walkways and docks are expected to remain under metres of water for weeks.

Mohr expects the city itself will stay dry, though. Without the water diversion, there would have been evacuations, he said.

Officials say the water level at the Forks would be more than three metres higher.

The Portage Diversion, however, might be hurting First Nations near Lake Winnipeg. Chief Garnet Woodhouse of Pinaymootang First Nation said the community on the Fairford River has never seen so much water and that 40 homes could be flooded.

Woodhouse said the province has warned him it will get worse because of the Portage Diversion, a 29-kilometre channel that redirects some water from the Assiniboine and empties it into Lake Manitoba.

1,800 people forced out of their homes provincewide

There are about 1,800 people who have been out of their homes for weeks now because there is no road access to their communities. Most of the evacuees live on First Nations reserves north and south of Winnipeg. 

Provincial officials say some 600 municipal roads are washed out and more than 60 highways and main routes are under water as well.

Ring dikes in the town of Ste. Agathe south of Winnipeg are being monitored 24 hours a day to make sure they hold up.

The weekend storm didn't damage them much, however, according to Bob Stefaniuk, mayor of the Rural Municipality of Richot.

"By and large, I think most dikes would withstand that kind of thing very well, but it still raises people's anguish."

On Tuesday, provincial officials warned people to stay off dikes. They say the currents of the major rivers are moving very fast. They're especially concerned with the damage all-terrain vehicles can do to the flood barriers.

Norm Tchir, emergency co-ordinator for three municipalities west of Winnipeg, said crews have been inspecting dikes they believe will hold, but there are worries that the super-saturated soil might force water underground, past defences, and into basements.