Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Flooding expected close to 2009 levels, major in some areas

Threatened communities begin preparations

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Provincial flood forecasters are expected to upgrade the threat of spring flooding in southern Manitoba today as communities throughout the flood zone prepare for what could be headed their way.

In its first flood outlook of the season last month, the province said it expected only minor to moderate flooding along the Red, Assiniboine, Pembina and Souris rivers and in the Interlake.

But that changed earlier this month when a late winter storm dumped about 20 centimetres more snow on southern Manitoba and areas of Saskatchewan and North Dakota. That thick snowpack across the region, plus a major-flood warning from the U.S. last week, now has flood forecasters here reworking their predictions.

"If you look at the forecasting, it's changed pretty well around the table for most," St. Clements Mayor Steve Strang said Monday. "Every one of them is getting a little bit worse."

How severe flooding will be on the Red and Assiniboine rivers depends on one thing -- whether Mother Nature pitches us a curveball over the next six weeks or throws us a walk.

Colder-than-normal temperatures have delayed the spring thaw, but at the same time have allowed for the snowpack that covers the region to slowly evaporate. The fear is if temperatures rise too quickly, snow will melt that much faster and, if combined with rain, it's a whole new ball game.

Provincial officials met with municipal leaders last week in Selkirk to outline various flooding scenarios under different weather conditions. The consensus, according to those who were there, isn't whether there will flooding, but how much.

"The rumour mill has it it's going to be worse than first anticipated," RM of St. Andrews emergency measures co-ordinator Darcy Hardman said Monday. "They're going to say we're going to have to start mitigating for situations that we might have in the future."

That's already started up and down the Red River Valley, but out west along the Assiniboine River it's a bit of a different story -- all eyes are focused on the Portage Diversion and whether it will be called into service as it was in 2011, the year Lake Manitoba flooded with catastrophic results.

"We're trying to keep an even head with this," Twin Lakes Beach resident Jack King said. "But I'll tell you, a lot of people are so discouraged. All the work we've put in trying to get back, lifting places and doing landscaping and all the rest of it, and now the prospects of another flood, it's just so disheartening."

King lost his retirement home in the 2011 flood and has since rebuilt.

The province over the winter months has reinforced and dredged part of the diversion, but King and RM of St. Laurent Reeve Earl Zotter said it has done precious little to increase outflow from the lake at the Fairford River Water Control Structure into Lake St. Martin or moved on the idea of building a new outflow channel at Watchorn Bay.

"As far as what's going to happen on Lake Manitoba this year, it's anybody's guess," Zotter said. "From what I understand, the whole drainage basin of the Assiniboine River has pretty heavy moisture in it. I don't feel the province will have any qualms about using the diversion and running the amount of water at us like they did in 2011. That will probably be their only strategy to saving Portage and Winnipeg and everyone in between."

Flood preparations for this spring started several weeks ago with Amphibex ice-smashing machines breaking up 30 kilometres of thick ice on the Red River to reduce the risk of ice jams and the reinforcement of a dike in St. Clements near St. Peters Road. Municipalities such as St. Clements and St. Andrews are also busy clearing ditches and culverts of snow and ice to reduce the threat of overland flooding. Both communities are gearing up to stockpile thousands of sandbags with new sandbag-making machines. South of Winnipeg, the border town of Emerson has trucked away piles of snow in preparation for what could be headed its way on the Red River.

We will live stream the news conference at 11 a.m.


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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2013 A4


Updated on Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 11:11 AM CDT: update live

12:27 PM: end of livestream

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