Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bracing for the coming waters

Building dikes, checking boat engine among spring rites for some

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ST. JEAN BAPTISTE ---- When Anne-Marie Fillion looks out her ground-floor window, she can't see much besides farm machinery and maybe some of her dogs.

The earth dike around her century-old family home blocks the view.

It was built after the 1997 flood and protects her home from whatever the Red River throws at her family.

She hopes.

"I don't think it'll be too bad," she said, as her son Louis mans a pump to get rid of of small lake that's formed in her front yard caused by melting snow. "Right now, I think I'm comfortable. But if it comes up higher than in 1997, it's iffy. The dike has settled and there are some gopher holes."

The province has already been out to survey it, but she hasn't heard yet if she has to raise it.

In 1997, the Fillion house was surrounded by the "Red Sea." Her late husband Robert refused to leave, building a wall of sandbags and hay bales.

The house was built about 100 years ago on an oxbow of the Red River. An oxbow is a former section of river channel that's been cut off by channel erosion. But with the Red rising, the oxbow is quickly filling up with water and becoming part of the river again.

"In 2009, we were able to keep the water out," Fillion said. "The neighbours say they don't think this year will be too bad. I think going through floods so many times, they're just prepared."

Beneath that confidence is still worry, and the unknown of how bad the river level will actually be.

"It's staying more wet now," she said, checking a house pumping water out of her yard. "Flooding is more frequent."

Up and down the Red River Valley, work is well underway shoring up earth dikes and moving precious belongings to higher ground.

"I'm moving my '96 Corvette," neighbour Charles Van Hook said, adding he's already raised his possessions off his basement floor in case water seeps in.

Van Hook's house is also inside a earth dike and should be protected. In 2009, there were only a few centimetres of water on his driveway, nothing his truck couldn't get through.

"I don't worry about it," he said of the predicted flood. "I can't stop it, so why worry about it."

Dikes in the valley were built to 1997 flood level plus an additional two feet. Homes were also raised to the same level.

In Ste. Agathe further north, crews were busy building a clay dike along the river. In 1997, St. Agathe was flooded out when a dike on the other side of town was breached and water rushed in during the night.

On the other side of the river along St. Mary's Road it's the same.

Among the annual rites of spring, besides building dikes and filling sandbags, is making the sure the boat engine works.

For Fillion, the stress of flood season gets worse each year.

In 1997, her husband was there to protect the house.

Now, it's more of a family affair with her sons Louis and Marc.

The family is the fifth generation to live in the house.

But since her husband's death, the farm operations have been wound down. They sold their cattle and the farmland is rented out. She and her children work in Winnipeg.

Still, it's the house that holds them together.

And fighting back the Red River, even more so.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 6, 2011 A3

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