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Deluge of bills: $200M and counting

Premier thanks military members for helping to build flood defences

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The Assiniboine River overflows its banks, flooding roads and farm fields west of Portage la Prairie.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

The Assiniboine River overflows its banks, flooding roads and farm fields west of Portage la Prairie. Photo Store

The bill for this summer's flooding on the Assiniboine River is at least $200 million and rising -- and it doesn't include the loss of about one million acres in farmland because it was too wet to seed.

The mounting tab includes flood-damaged roads and bridges and financial disaster assistance for Manitobans hit by the worst of the unprecedented summer flooding in the Assiniboine Valley. To date, approximately 215 people have attended the province's mobile recovery offices and 166 applications have been received.

"That cost excludes all the agriculture programs," Selinger said Friday. "It excludes any repair work that has to be done to the flood infrastructure itself, such as the (Portage) diversion, because the water is still too high to know what the impact has been on the quality of that infrastructure."

Of the estimated $200 million in flood costs, Doug McNeil, deputy minister of Infrastructure and Transportation, said about $60 million will go toward bridge repairs, another $40 million for repairing washed-out roads and $100 million in disaster financial assistance. Of that amount, $30 million will cover the province's response to the flood and $70 million is for municipalities and individuals.

'There's more and more evidence that these volatile weather events are more intense, they're more severe and they leave more damage'

-- Greg Selinger

About 950,000 acres of farmland went unseeded this spring because of excess moisture. The province expects about $60 million in payouts with about 2,400 claims being filed at the June 20 deadline. An assessment on how much other farmland was affected by flooding is ongoing.

The bill for the 2011 flood was about $1.25 billion. The federal governmet made two payments totalling $100 million to date and $204.5 million is outstanding.

Summer flooding in southern Manitoba, central Saskatchewan and Northwestern Ontario and the Winnipeg River is due to rainfall during the past month that in many areas has been more than 200 per cent of normal.

"We've seen major weather events not just in Manitoba but through north America over the last decade, and there's more and more evidence that these volatile weather events are more intense, they're more severe and they leave more damage," Selinger said.

Manitoba has already announced a plan to better manage land drainage to hold more water on the land in retention ponds and in re-established wetlands during wet periods. Saskatchewan is studying the issue.

Selinger also thanked the military for its help sandbagging homes along the Assiniboine River from Portage la Prairie to St. François Xavier during the past week. About 500 personnel from each branch were deployed starting last Saturday, with the majority returning to base Thursday and Friday. The province's state of emergency remains in effect.

Brig.-Gen Christian Juneau said a rapid-response unit will be on standby at CFB Shilo should they be needed as the crest moves down the Assiniboine River. A helicopter with a specialized sensing camera will patrol dikes at night to detect any possible breaches.

"This is important to us," Juneau said of the army's role. "This is the home game, priority No. 1 from a Canadian Force's perspective. That's why we put so much emphasis on readiness, having the personnel, the vehicles, the equipment ready to go when there is a requirement."

The mounting flood tab was announced the same day residents around Lake Manitoba -- from Delta Beach, Twin Lakes Beach and Laurentia Beach -- got ready to battle rising water. Lake Manitoba was slightly above its flood stage of 814 feet above sea level. The lake is projected to rise to 814.6 ft. asl as early as next month, depending on rainfall amounts.

The lake's highest recorded peak of 817.70 ft. asl was during the 2011 flood. Hundreds of properties were destroyed or damaged when high winds blew pounding waves into the shoreline. Many fear a repeat this summer, although those who rebuilt their homes had to build at an elevation of 822 ft. asl so they will be protected.

"The flood fight is not over here," a Laurentia Beach cottager said Friday.

"Since the Canada Day storms, there has been a foul odour emanating from the lake and our once clear water is now the colour of tea," she added. "No one feels safe swimming in it at this point."

The province is producing inundation maps for flood or wave-storm scenarios on Lake Manitoba to help municipalities protect at-risk properties. Work to protect many Lake Manitoba communities started a week ago.

The province also said it has 16,000 super-sandbags in stock it can help municipalities put in place.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 12, 2014 A4

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