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Manitoba flood outlook worsens slightly

Severe flooding is possible across Manitoba this spring
Severe flooding is possible across Manitoba this spring

Andrea Stockton, staff writer

March 30, 2011 — Manitoba is preparing for a severe spring flood. Officials say the weather will play a significant role from this point on.

1997 considered the flood of the century
1997 considered the flood of the century

It's what most Manitobans have feared. The 2011 spring flood potential is high for much of the province.

Manitoba's Water Stewardship released its latest flood outlook on March 25, which anticipates severe flooding in the coming months. The risk is high for the Red, Souris, Pembina, Assiniboine, Winnipeg, Saskatchewan and Fisher rivers and the Interlake.

“Most of the flood potential is coming outside of Manitoba from on the Red River, North Dakota, Minnesota have a very high flood threat and Manitoba will have to deal with that,” explains Steve Topping with the Manitoba Water Stewardship. “And then on the Assiniboine River we also have Saskatchewan and the upper portion of the Assiniboine basin, very high snowpack for this time of year and we're looking at significant flooding on both the Assiniboine and Red Rivers.”

How bad it gets will still depend on the amount of snow or rain that falls from this point on and how fast the spring breakup occurs on rivers.

“This year, thanks in large part to La Nina, our seasonal outlook for Spring 2011 calls for near to slightly above average precipitation for southern Manitoba with above average amounts in the extreme southeast,” says Bryn Jones, a meteorologist at The Weather Network. “Combined with a relatively deep snowpack across the Red River’s drainage we could argue for a higher than average risk of flooding this year in vulnerable areas of southern Manitoba despite a prediction for near average temperatures.”

Jones adds that a prediction of a wet spring may not turn out to be so critical if all the wet weather happened in the latter half of the season after the meltwaters had already started to recede.

Still, the Manitoba Water Stewardship says they aren't taking any chances, especially with the potential for record water levels. Authorities expect a flood the size of 2009, when the Red River became a lake 16 km wide. Government officials aren't ruling out flood levels similar to that of 1997 either.

Ice-cutters have started chopping ice
Ice-cutters have started chopping ice

It was considered the “flood of the century” and covered over 2,500 square kilometres of land in water. Nearly 30,000 people were forced to evacuate as rising waters posed a threat to several communities.

8,000 military personnel along with thousands of volunteers worked to build dikes and help any affected residents. Some say the Red River floodway helped to spare Winnipeg from six billion dollars in damage.

“And since 1997, the great flood on the Red River, the province of Manitoba has invested a billion dollars in expansion of the Red River floodway, so that it will handle a one in seven hundred year flood event,” says Topping.

“Individual homes, farms and businesses, there's about 1,800 in the Red River Valley, they've been raised on pads or moved into non-flood prone areas.”

Premier Greg Selinger said the province is spending over $20 million to prepare for the potentially considerable spring flood this year. Heavy machinery has already been stationed at bridges in Winnipeg in order to break up any ice jams. Ice-cutters have began chopping up river ice as well.

Some health-care facilities are working on evacuation plans. It's feared that flood waters could swamp basements and knock out electricity and water supplies. The City of Winnipeg is also preparing for the worst and plans to station water rescue boats in vulnerable areas.

The province is stepping up its aerial rescue efforts as well. The aerial rescue team will remain on stand-by during the forecasted flood season. Providing help to those affected is critical, says Manitoba Fire. Every second counts when dealing with fast moving water.

With files from The Canadian Press and Sana Ahmed

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