Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Victims of 2011 flood delay flood-proofing

$61 million available, 500 applicants yet to submit estimates

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Despite the Selinger government putting $61 million on the table for victims of the devastating 2011 flood on Lake Manitoba, about 500 approved applicants have yet to submit estimates to flood-proof their properties, numbers released by the province show.

More than 300 projects have been completed under the Individual Flood Proofing Initiative and the Financial Assistance to Cottage Owners programs.

Provincial officials wonder if some cottage owners are delaying the work because they're waiting for a second outlet to be built so water can exit Lake Manitoba more quickly and stabilize the level in flood years.

"My sense of it is they're probably waiting for us to build these channels," Doug McNeil, deputy minister of infrastructure and transportation, said. "My personal view is you should still build high because you never know what's going to happen. We can't build the channels for absolutely everything."

The province has six options for a new outlet for Lake Manitoba, at or near the Fairford River control structure, which since 1961 has increase the flow out of Lake Manitoba into Lake St. Martin. A second, permanent channel is to replace the Lake St. Martin emergency channel built during the 2011 flood. It would take water from Lake St. Martin to Lake Winnipeg.

The earliest construction could start on both projects is 2015, and it would take up to four years to complete.

Flood victims looking to rebuild say guidelines to access public money -- to raise their cottage or build required dike protection -- are overly stringent.

The province has said buildings should be raised to 822.1 feet above sea level, a height some property owners have said is unreasonable. They refer to recent flooding as "man-made" because the province uses the Portage Diversion to channel water into Lake Manitoba. The province picked 822.1 ft because it's almost five feet above the level the lake reached in 2011 (817.70).

The other roadblock, the province acknowledges, is just after 2011 a shortage of contractors likely delayed some property owners from getting the required estimates. To qualify for funding, the province requires three quotes. Property owners also have to pay 16 per cent of the cost.

"We want to make sure they have our approval before they go ahead because they are going to incur all these costs," McNeil said. "We don't want people proceeding on the basis that they think we're going to pay it when in fact we didn't approve it in advance."

Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said Lake Manitoba residents should not wait until the new outlets are built to flood-proof their homes and cottages, and take advantage of provincial funding.

The province took a similar tack following the 1997 Flood of the Century in the Red River Valley. Individual homes are now either protected by ring dikes or have been raised to be protected to a level equal to the '97 flood plus 3 feet.

"When you have homes and cottages built literally right up to the lake you're into these programs," Ashton said.

He added flood-proofing properties will only add greater protection on top of the construction of the additional outlets. It's not known at this early stage exactly how much extra capacity the outlets will add to lower Lake Manitoba, once in operation.

"The two go together," Ashton said. "If people raise up their homes and cottages, and if you've got greater capacity, what you end up with is both primary and secondary defences. If we get these outlets with enhanced capacity and if we get individual flood protection, Lake Manitoba will be one of the best-protected lakes anywhere."

Friday morning, flows on the Assiniboine River into the Portage Reservoir were at 47,110 cubic feet per second. Flows on the Portage Diversion were approximately 29,610 cfs and flows on the Assiniboine River to Winnipeg were 17,500 cfs.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 19, 2014 B10

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