Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Farmers ready for flood

Measures minimize environmental risk

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The 1997 flood of the century caught many farmers and rural dwellers off guard, and the results weren't pretty.

Unsecured fuel and propane tanks were carried away with the floodwaters, as were shallow septic tanks.

There had not been a major flood in Manitoba's Red River Valley for a number of years, and our defences were down.

But now flooding in the valley is almost an annual occurrence, and governments and ordinary citizens are more aware of the environmental risks associated with the sudden apparition of a large, narrow sea along the Red.

"I think we're much better prepared now. We've been through this before," said Scott Davies, acting co-ordinator of emergency response and dangerous goods with Manitoba Conservation.

In 1997, Conservation staff found themselves in boats securing fuel tanks to trees and marking them for future pickup. That's not as likely to happen now, he said.

Farmers have also been going to school in big numbers on how to store and handle fuel, fertilizer and chemicals.

Since 2005, 6,000 Manitoba farmers have attended voluntary environmental workshops and completed a Manitoba Farm Environment Plan, said John Heard, an agronomist with the provincial Agriculture Department. Completing the plan allows farmers to apply for certain government program assistance.

Since 1997, there have been several other programs launched to minimize the amount of fertilizer, chemicals and manure winding up in waterways due to spring flooding.

In the Red River Valley, manure must be injected into annual cropland or worked in with tillage equipment within 48 hours of application. And it cannot be applied on the land after Nov. 10, when the ground would be presumably frozen and nutrients prone to be carried off by spring runoff.

The government also offers incentives to farmers to apply nitrogen fertilizer to their land in the spring, rather than the fall. Applying fertilizer in fall allows farmers to spread their planting workload. But it also increases the danger of nitrogen being lost to floodwaters. If land is flooded for a long time, the nitrogen can also bubble up to the surface as a gas and be lost that way. While much of this gas is inert, there are also smaller amounts of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, released.



Preparing for a flood

-- Move small portable, hazardous materials containers and packages (paint, lube oil, water treatment chemicals, solvents, fuels, pesticides, fertilizers, etc.) to higher ground.

-- On farms, pesticide warehouses must be emptied if there is a risk that floodwaters will reach them. Same with fertilizer storage buildings.

-- In rural areas and cottage country, make sure septic tanks are secure and properly anchored if they're not buried deep. Ensure pumps and alarms are in good working order. Reduce the amount of waste going into the septic system. Don't pump the tank empty because it makes it more buoyant and likely to float.

-- Small portable propane tanks should be removed to higher ground and secured. Valves must be tightened so the tanks don't leak.

-- Flood-prone farmers must move animals and access to feed and water to high ground. The Canadian Wheat Board is now offering special delivery opportunities for farmers who have grain stored in bins that could be flooded.

-- For more flood information, see the provincial flood website ( and the City of Winnipeg site ( and click on the green EmergWeb tab.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 19, 2011 J16

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