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Back for another brutal blow

River threatens to crest again with heavy rain

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Manitobans are back on high alert as waters on the Assiniboine River rise again to almost the same levels that forced the Selinger government to deliberately flood properties south of Portage la Prairie.

Record rainfall in southwestern Manitoba and a looming fifth storm that could dump more rain next week will see projected flows on the Assiniboine at the Portage Reservoir hit 53,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). The day the controlled release at the Hoop and Holler bend was made in early May, inflows at the reservoir reached 52,300 cfs.

"I would like, as emergency measures minister, to be able to give some sense that there's light at the end of tunnel," Steve Ashton said Thursday. "I want to be very frank with Manitobans that we're facing more challenges, and we're going to continue to face challenges."

Four rainstorms in May across the Prairies added more water to a watershed so saturated that it can't absorb a single drop more, Ashton said. A fifth, expected to hit early next week, could put the same pressures on the province's flood-control measures that prompted the military to be called in a month ago.

"Just before the armed services departed, they made it very clear they could come back if required," Ashton said. "The goods news, if there is any good news with the challenging circumstances that we have, is that we've been able to do a lot of work on the Assiniboine dikes," he said, adding the province will rely on its own resources to hold back the rising water.

The province's top flood forecaster, Steve Topping, said it's not beyond the realm of possibility that the Hoop and Holler bend breach site, on Provincial Road 311 south of Portage la Prairie, could be reopened to ease pressure on the Assiniboine River. But that's dependant on future rain.

"Our flood defences will clearly be pushed to the limit," Ashton added.

As of Thursday, the Portage Diversion was sending 30,460 cfs into the already swollen Lake Manitoba. Lake Manitoba is now expected to hit a high of 817 feet above sea level in July. The inflow upstream on the Portage Diversion was 48,490 cfs.

News of a second flood comes as more than 2,000 Manitobans remain evacuated from their homes and hundreds of cottagers wonder when they can return.

Many of those forced to abandon their summer homes already know they won't be able to return, as cottages were destroyed by high waves in a storm last week. Homes and cottages on Dauphin Lake and Oak Lake are also fighting flood waters.

Lakefront cottagers and homeowners on Lake Winnipeg are now taking precautions should they have to evacuate. The first likely to be affected will be in the Chalet Beach area, which is also battling rising water in Netley Marsh. Patricia Beach on the east side of the lake is in the same predicament.

At the other end of the province, high flows on the Saskatchewan River at The Pas -- its watershed stretches from the Rocky Mountains in Alberta to Montana -- have prompted the construction of a major dike on Ralls Island.

The Saskatchewan River flows into Lake Winnipeg at Grand Rapids via Cedar Lake. Lake Winnipeg is expected to crest at 716.8 feet above sea level by mid-July.


Possible record level of crops going unseeded

The huge rainstorms that have been swelling Manitoba's rivers and lakes are giving farmers fits.

Keystone Agricultural Producers said Thursday it fears as many as five million acres of Manitoba cropland -- 43 per cent of the what is normally seeded -- won't get seeded this spring.

That would be a new record in Manitoba. The previous mark was set in 2005, when 1.4 million acres could not be seeded because of excess moisture.

KAP president Doug Chorney said he's been getting calls from worried farmers who have land and machinery bills to pay.

"I can sense the panic in their voice. They realizing they're never going to get this crop in," he said.

Farmers can purchase excess moisture insurance, which kicks in if they're unable to plant a crop. Coverage varies from $50 to $65 an acre, but that doesn't go anywhere near covering farmers' costs. KAP has been lobbying the federal and provincial governments to top up coverage by an extra $50 an acre.

Grain farmers are hoping the recent sunny weather can hold for another week. "If we get great weather like (Thursday) for the next week, guys might rally and get barley (an early-maturing crop) planted," Chorney said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 10, 2011 A3

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