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MB goes ahead with deliberate flooding

Andrea Stockton, staff writer

May 14, 2011 — Controlled flood underway south of Assiniboine River in southern Manitoba.

Crews work to increase the capacity of the Portage Diversion. Courtesy: Government of Manitoba
Crews work to increase the capacity of the Portage Diversion. Courtesy: Government of Manitoba

Machines have broken through an Assiniboine River dike in southern Manitoba to deliberately flood a swath of land.

The province says redirecting the water flow will prevent 500 square kilometres and almost 1,000 properties from being submerged.

The Portage Diversion is used to avert 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.

Early Saturday morning, a cut was 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. This is about enough water to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool every three minutes.

Every day, the rate will be increased until it reaches a maximum of 3,000 cubic feet per second.

The planned release -- which officials say is deliberately slow and controlled -- will cause overland flooding affecting at least 150 homes. The water is filling low-lying sections between roadways -- somewhat akin to maple syrup covering a waffle.

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.”

Homes that will be hit first from rising water levels were evacuated days ago. Military personnel are placing flood tubes and sandbags to protect the communities at risk.

Military providing help in the flood fight. Courtesy: Government of Manitoba
Military providing help in the flood fight. Courtesy: Government of Manitoba

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, Jill Colton, Lyndsay Morrison and Alexandra Pope

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