Andrea Stockton, staff writer
May 13, 2011 — Officials in flood-ravaged Manitoba say a controlled release of water from the Assiniboine River, scheduled for Saturday morning, is the only way to prevent widespread damage.
The Portage Diversion is used to redirect rising waters from the Assiniboine River at Portage La Prairie. However, that diversion is currently funnelling 34,000 cubic feet of water per second into Lake Manitoba -- almost 10,000 cubic feet more than it was designed to handle.
So on Saturday morning, a cut will be made in the Assiniboine dike at the Hoop and Holler Bend west of Winnipeg, allowing water to flow out of the Assiniboine at a rate of about 500 cubic feet per second.
The planned release -- which officials say will be slow and controlled -- will cause overland flooding affecting at least 150 homes. However, it is expected to spare some 800 properties further downriver from flooding and take pressure off the Portage Diversion.
The province says the release site was selected as it provides the least risk and best management for the flow of water.
“The controlled release needs to be located as close as it can to Portage La Prairie,” explained Steve Topping with Manitoba Water Stewardship. “We cannot carry water down the Assiniboine River to a further downstream release point. The dikes can't handle that capacity.”
So far, 14 homes in the immediate area of the release have been evacuated. Several notices have also been given to homes that may be affected by the spillover. Military personnel are placing flood tubes and sandbags to protect the communities at risk.
The release could also devastate high value farmland that produces a large amount of the province's vegetable and specialty crops.
According to Steve Ashton, Manitoba's Infrastructure and Transportation Minister, restrictions on flood affected roads have eased so agricultural producers can move livestock or machinery.
“By providing a reasonable approach to this, we will allow them to make the necessary moves to protect their farming operations,” said Ashton in a news release.
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger announced that a special program is being developed to help provide compensation to producers and homeowners that will be affected by the release.
Meanwhile, officials in Brandon say dikes are holding back rising waters despite the recent onset of wet weather. The water appears to have stabilized below the top of the dikes.
A local state of emergency was issued in the city on Sunday and military personnel were called in to assist with the flood fight. Hundreds of homes and businesses were put under a mandatory evacuation order.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper took a bird's eye view of the city on Wednesday, one day after announcing that more Canadian troops would be sent to the area.
The Canadian Red Cross is currently accepting donations for flood victims in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Quebec. You can help out by visiting www.redcross.ca or calling 1-800-418-1111
With files from the Canadian Press, Lyndsay Morrison and Alexandra Pope