Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bit of optimism on flood front

Assiniboine River won't get as high as forecast

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The province has lowered its forecast for the amount of water headed east on the Assiniboine River, but not enough to eliminate the likelihood crews will need to breach the Hoop and Holler bend this week.

The Assiniboine River's crest is expected to arrive at the Portage Reservoir late Wednesday, reaching a forecasted 50,500 to 51,500 cubic feet per second (cfs).

On Friday, when Premier Greg Selinger raised the spectre of a deliberate breach, the province was forecasting 52,000 to 54,000 cfs at the Portage Reservoir.

One reason for the lowered projection is that the Assiniboine River at Brandon crested Sunday morning at 34,330 cfs, not the projected 35,000 to 36,000 cfs.

Infrastructure Minister Steve Ashton, who is responsible for emergency preparations, said the Hoop and Holler bend will only be breached if the Assiniboine River dikes -- some built 100 years ago -- show signs of seepage and imminent failure.

The dikes are the weakest at about a dozen spots along tough-to-access areas between Poplar Point and St. François Xavier.

"The key element is -- to the greatest extent possible -- to control the flow," Ashton said.

"If we're able to get the flows through the Assiniboine River and through the Portage Diversion in the scenario we're looking at... the (Hoop and Holler breach) would not be in operation, depending on weather."

The province will increase the amount of water flowing into the Assiniboine River downstream of the reservoir to 18,000 cfs by late tonight. At the same time, up to 34,000 cfs will be sent through the Portage Diversion to Lake Manitoba.

It works in the province's favour that the high amounts are a temporary surge -- not a sustained flow as in 2011.

However, summer vegetation in the river has made it less able to handle high water.

"We're actually finding about a one-foot higher level is being experienced at the current flow," provincial flood official Steve Topping said.

On Monday, hundreds of workers and soldiers -- the military was called in Friday under a state of emergency -- put the finishing touches on flood protection for up to 350 homes along the Assiniboine and south of Hoop and Holler in case the breach is made.

"What's key over the next 48 hours is the kind of mobilization we're seeing," Ashton said.

On Monday, Between Portage la Prairie and Headingley, municipal workers, provincial employees, volunteers and about 400 military personnel sandbagged about 200 homes along the Assiniboine and 150 homes immediately south of the Hoop and Holler bend, which is southeast of Portage la Prairie on Highway 331.

The province said depending on the efficiency of the river and the stability of its dikes, officials may need to make a deliberate cut into Highway 331 at Hoop and Holler to release water from the river.

That water -- as much as 5,000 cfs -- would flow mostly over farm fields, which have been planted with crops. A similar action was taken in 2011. Preparatory excavation work has been done.

"If we need it, and we're hoping we don't... then we just have to pull the plug and water will flow," said Doug McNeil, deputy minister for infrastructure and transportation.

Crews have erected aqua dams on three kilometres of the dike along the eastern side of the Portage Diversion. It's intended to prevent an overflow east of the diversion towards Delta Beach on Lake Manitoba, as happened in 2011.

Sunday afternoon, residents of West Delta Beach were advised of a mandatory evacuation order.

A precautionary evacuation order was in place for East Delta Beach.

As of Monday morning, approximately 725 people had left their homes and communities due to flooding.

This includes 160 evacuees from two communities due to spring flooding.

Fifty-five municipalities and communities had declared a state of local emergency. New declarations included one from the RM of Alonsa.

Due to the tight time frame to protect homes, the province warned sightseers to stay at home because they were getting in the way of sandbagging efforts.

Ashton also said talks continued with First Nations protestors about the use of the Lake St. Martin emergency channel. He wouldn't rule out arresting them to allow the channel to fully open. It operated at 80 per cent capacity Monday.

"We need that outlet open," Ashton said. "We will also be looking at other options in terms of contacting law enforcement officials."

The province issued advisories about high wind affecting both Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg today. Both lakes are above their preferred operating ranges because of flooding.

Wind on Lake Winnipeg could increase water levels by as much as a metre in the south basin.

Wind on Lake Manitoba could increase water levels by up to 30 centimetres in the south basin of the lake along with considerable wave action on shorelines.

 

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 8, 2014 0

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Updated on Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 12:12 PM CDT: adds portage diversion photo

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