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2011 flood team inexperienced, lacked resources

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Manitoba’s flood forecasting team was too inexperienced and lacked the necessary resources to deal with the deluge it faced in southern Manitoba in 2011.

That’s one of the conclusions of a 156-page task force report examining the province’s response to the flood, released this morning.

The 2011 Flood Review Task Force, chaired by civil engineer David Farlinger, said the province should consider increasing the salaries paid to flood forecasters and improve their work environment to make forecasting a position to aspire to within the civil service and to "attract qualified forecasters."

The report said that given the scope of the flood and the tools available to the province’s Hydrological Forecasting Centre (HFC), providing timely and reliable forecasts would have posed a challenge to the most experienced forecasters — let alone a team whose experience ranged from six months to three years.

"The task force heard from a number of sources that the inadequacy, or lack, of succession planning within the provincial government was a concern," the report said. "This was particularly evident in the Hydrologic Forecasting Centre (HFC) where relatively inexperienced forecasters were required to deal with a flood event far beyond anything they had ever faced."

The report said the province needs to address the issue for future floods.

Flood forecasters also lacked a dedicated operations centre where they could all meet and spread out their maps, field measurements and other data and work collaboratively without interruptions. In the early days of the flood, forecasters worked within their respective offices because of a lack of such space before transforming a board room for this use.

Another constraint facing staff was a questionable flood forecasting model based on snowmelt, the report said. The model was unable to produce reliable runoff forecasts that took into account heavy rains. "Most of the largest floods in Manitoba are the result of rainfall on top of, or shortly after, the snowmelt event," the report said.

In their attempts to overcome the obstacles facing them, flood forecasters developed rainfall-runoff models "on the fly" for sub-watersheds of the Souris, Assiniboine and Red river basins as well as for a number of other streams.

The report makes it clear that whatever shortcomings there were in the accuracy of the province’s flood forecasting they were not due to a lack of effort from staff. Flood forecasters worked anywhere from 12 to 18 hours a day continuously for about 100 days, it said.

But eventually all of their limitations — from inexperience to lack of resources — "began taking their toll on the accuracy and reliability" of their work.

"The problems encountered during the 2011 flood operations are a clear indication that the current level of resources in the HFC are inadequate for floods of the magnitude ... of the 2011 event," the report said.

It recommended the establishment of a full-time operations centre with dedicated computers, telephones, software and other communication equipment as well as adequate space for laying out visual materials. It also recommended that forecasters have improved professional and technical support to supply them with the data they need.

The task force’s authors said the 2011 Manitoba flood was "of a scope and severity never before experienced, in recorded history, in this province."

The report defends the province’s decision to create an emergency outlet at the Hoop and Holler bend of the Assiniboine River downstream from Portage la Prairie, saying forecast precipitation that didn’t occur would have made the operation necessary. "The strategy to construct the breach was entirely reasonable," the report said.

The government commissioned the task force report — and a second report reviewing the regulation of Lake Manitoba Lake St. Martin — last February.

The Free Press will be live streaming Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton's scheduled news conference at 12:30 responding to the reports.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Friday, April 5, 2013 at 11:01 AM CDT: Review results.

12:29 PM: Note the Free Press will be live streaming Ashton's response to the report.

2:15 PM: adds fact box

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