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Seepage from Portage Diversion a concern

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Manitoba flood officials will decide on Thursday whether more water will need to be channelled through the manmade breach at the Hoop and Holler Bend dike on the Assiniboine River.

That would be necessary to alleviate some of the pressure on the Portage Diversion, which had seepage at the base of its west wall on Wednesday. About 100 soldiers were sent to the Portage Diversion to shore up the west wall.

Flood-fighters are worried that if the seepage is not addressed, it could lead to a failure and uncontrolled flooding.

Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said they may have to lower flows into the Portage Diversion to 32,000 cubic feet per second from close to 34,000 cfs.

The seepage is likely linked to the increased volumes the diversion has been handling. It was built to take 25,000 cfs from the Assiniboine River, sending it to Lake Manitoba. In recent days, it’s been built up so that it can handle close to 34,000 cfs.

Ashton said it was exactly this kind of concern that prompted government to build the outlet southeast of Portage la Prairie in the first place.  That and the sheer volume of water headed towards Portage and points eastward.

Meantime, sunny skies and round-the-clock work by the Canadian Forces are helping Manitoba gain the upper hand in its flood fight.

Premier Greg Selinger said the province's flood protection around the raging river has improved dramatically in the last few days.

Sunny weather is drying out the muddy dikes, making it easier for crews to reinforce vulnerable spots with sandbags.

"They're going at it hard," Selinger said.

"They think they're making some real progress ... Just four or five days ago, there were about 16 hotspots where the dike was at risk of breaching. Now, they've narrowed it down to less than a handful and are strengthening them as we speak."

Flood officials expect the river could crest near Portage la Prairie within the next 24 hours.

So far, the deliberate dike breach at Hoop and Holler Bend hasn't been nearly as devastating as once feared.

While the province initially warned it might have to release up to 3,000 cubic feet of water per second, the flow has remained around 400 cfs.

No homes in the area have been seriously damaged by the release of water and the cut could be sealed off in the next few days, Selinger said.

While some have criticized the decision to deliberately flood the area the premier said it was necessary.

"The controlled release did take a lot of pressure off the dikes at a critical time," he said. "It allowed them to make a lot of progress in the last four or five days. As soon as the controlled breach can be closed, and the dikes are safe and the diversion is safe, then we'll get a recommendation from our officials to close it."

Selinger says the province is working on a compensation package for affected homeowners in the Hoop and Holler region that will go beyond normal disaster relief. The province hopes to roll out those details in the coming days.

Manitoba will be looking to the federal government to help reimburse residents, Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton added. He said the precedent was set in 1997, after the province's "flood of the century," when Ottawa helped Manitoba with flood recovery.

Ashton warned residents not to be complacent in the coming days. There is still a real risk the dike around the Assiniboine could fail.

"We are not in any position to stand down in terms of our 24/7 flood fighting efforts," Ashton said.

"This is an unprecedented flood event in the Assiniboine valley ... We are not out of it yet."

Since the flood season began in April, more than 3,600 people have been forced out of their homes across the province.

Most of them were moved off aboriginal reserves as a precaution because the water was washing over local roads.


Updated on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 10:38 PM CDT: Adds details, Premier Selinger quotes.

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