Manitobans question Assiniboine dike breach

Published May 18, 2011

A man views the damage to a farm field from a deliberate breach of a dike on the Assiniboine River near Newton, Manitoba. Photo: Shaun Best/Reuters

Residents and business owners in Manitoba’s controlled flood area are asking if the May 14 controlled spill was unnecessary since the Assiniboine River has peaked without major damage in Brandon and the Portage la Prairie area.

So far, crews have been able to keep the flow of water at the release point at Hoop and Holler Bend to less than 20 per cent of the originally planned rate. And the area inundated by the controlled release has shrunk to about 2.7 square kilometres, far less than the originally estimated 180 to 225 square kilometres. But heavy rainfall could quickly alter the current situation, warned Steven Ashton, Manitoba’s emergency measures minister.

Ashton defended the controlled breach and warned that the cut may need to be enlarged in the next few weeks to further decrease water levels and accommodate repairs to the Portage Diversion flood control structure. He said that even after the Assiniboine River crests this week, river levels are expected to remain high into June.

According to the Manitoba government, no homes in the path of the controlled spill have been flooded to date and only a few have had water reaching the bottom of their sandbag dikes and aquadams. That has left some residents asking whether the controlled breach was really necessary. Other residents and business owners are demanding full provincial compensation for lost sales and the expense of alternative accommodation.

Flood-associated costs are so far estimated at $200 million. Evacuation has displaced about 3,600 people from their homes, 97 of which have suffered some damage, mainly flooded basements. But costs related to damaged infrastructures such as roads and rail lines and overall losses to Manitoba’s economy will make the total much higher.

According to the Ven. Norman Collier, rector of St. Mary-la-Prairie in Portage la Prairie, Anglican churches in the area are lending their support to general community efforts to provide protection for homes and food and clothing for displaced residents. “They are not mounting separate church-based efforts,” he said. The community good will is impressive. “Even young offenders from the Agassiz Youth Centre have pitched in to fill sandbags.”

Further north, the rising waters of Lake Manitoba have residents of the Lake Manitoba First Nation worried. The lake is spilling over close to shoreside homes, and in some areas crews are building dikes more than two metres high to protect them. Lake Manitoba is expected to crest in mid-June.

As elsewhere in the flood zone, an ongoing concern here is the safety of local livestock. Some cattle have been moved to drier land but some are stranded in grazing areas that have become virtual islands. Provincial officials are providing crown land to accommodate displaced animals.

In remote Peonan Point on Lake Manitoba, cattle rancher Arvid Nottveit is preparing for the possible evacuation of 300 head of cattle. He’s already built a one-kilometre fence to keep some of his herd in check.

"The province is talking 80 per cent compensation, but even so theremaining 20 per cent will still be substantial because of the largenumber of animals that have to be moved," he told the Anglican Journal.


  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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