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Lake Manitoba residents criticize government's water policy and push for outlet channel

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Eddystone farmer Bill Finney inspects his flooded fields. The Portage Diversion has raised water levels and caused problems for farms along Lake Manitoba again.

BILL REDEKOP / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Eddystone farmer Bill Finney inspects his flooded fields. The Portage Diversion has raised water levels and caused problems for farms along Lake Manitoba again. Photo Store

Lake Manitoba cottage owners and area residents took their case to the Manitoba Legislative Building this afternoon to press for speedy construction of an outlet channel for the lake and to blast the Selinger government’s water policies.

The rally, sponsored by the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives, drew about 100 people, including PC MLAs and staffers.

Speakers criticized the province for allegedly over-using the Portage Diversion, which diverts Assiniboine River water into Lake Manitoba, keeping lake levels high and contributing to algae growth and sediment buildups.

They also accused the province of failing to properly compensate area farmers and fishers for ongoing income loss as a result of the diversion’s operation.

But mainly, they were upset by the length of time the province predicts it will take — seven years from when it was first promised a year ago — for an additional outlet channel to be built to lower lake levels.

"Seven years is too long. Close the diversion now and do not open it again unless there is a real emergency," said Scott Greenlay, director of the Association of Lake Manitoba Stakeholders, and an executive member of the Delta Beach Association.

Scott Forbes, an ecologist and professor of biology at the University of Winnipeg who owns a property on Lake Manitoba, said the province ought to "fast-track" construction of the outlet to complete it in three years, as the provincial Tories are demanding.

Forbes, who writes an occasional column for the Free Press, said the province lacks a plan to manage lake levels.

"If it floods it floods and it is tough luck for all the farmers and ranchers and cottagers and First Nations and permanent residents and businesses around the lake," Forbes said of the NDP approach.

He also questioned why saving Lake Winnipeg is such a big government priority while, he said, Lake Manitoba is not.

Forbes said the Selinger government’s only plan for Lake Manitoba seems to be, ‘We’ll flood you out massively and help you clean up afterward.’

He said that’s not good enough. "We need a better plan and perhaps we need better people to come up with a better plan," he said of the NDP.

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