Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Despite fears, forecast isn't all that dire

Manitobans grown used to flooding

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About halfway from Swan River to The Pas, in one of the lonelier corners of Manitoba, Highway 77 swings across the north side of the Porcupine Hills. Driving west toward the Saskatchewan border, you'll come across the tiny town of Barrows and the road to Red Deer Lake, an even smaller community at the south side of the lake of the very same name.

According the 2011 census, Red Deer Lake had 13 occupied dwellings and a total population of 36 people. According to a 2006 provincial fact sheet, there were no businesses in the community and the combined value of all of its real estate was less than $200,000.

Since 1927, when the Red Deer Lake Mill shut down -- along with many other northwestern Manitoba sawmills -- this little village has gone all but unnoticed by the rest of the province.

But in the spring of 2013, obscure, out-of-the-way Red Deer Lake has the dubious distinction of facing the most severe flooding in all of Manitoba.

"Record flooding is expected near Red Deer Lake with all weather conditions," reads the third and final flood outlook by the province's hydrologic forecast centre.

According to the detailed provincial fact sheet, inflows into Red Deer Lake will exceed the capacity of the Red Deer River by two to three times, driving up the level of the lake, which also flooded in 2006 and 2011.

The plight of Red Deer Lake is important to consider during the spring flood of 2013, which is causing all forms of worry across the province, even though it will only threaten a handful of communities of considerable size.

While the Red River may rise as high and spread as wide as it did in 2009, all 18 Manitoba communities in the Red River Valley are protected by some form of ring dike. Some of those ring dikes will be put to use this spring, but none of those communities will be completely sealed off, flood forecaster Steve Topping told reporters on Wednesday during a flood forecast that included a more grim outlook for the Assiniboine River watershed but no change for the Red River Valley.

The town of Morris, for example, is protected from the Red and Morris rivers by a ring dike built up to 787.4 feet above sea level. The worst-case scenario for Morris this spring are floodwaters as high as 781 feet. Given the slew of recent unflattering headlines involving the town, another significant flood will be a welcome diversion, even if Highway 75 is submerged for another 35 days this spring.

Along the Assiniboine River, there's another ring dike around the only town where river levels would otherwise be a serious problem: St. Lazare, which sits at the confluence of the Qu'Appelle and Assiniboine. St. Lazare's ring dike is built up to 1,293.4 feet above sea level; the worst-case flooding scenario is 1,288 feet this spring.

The flood will be far more devastating for the townsite at Peguis First Nation, where the Fisher River is once again expected to spill its banks under all spring precipitation scenarios. The fact many Peguis residents were displaced by Fisher River floods in 2009 and 2011 points to the continuing need for some form of permanent flood protection in this north Interlake community. Negotiating such a deal is easier said than done, given the diffusion of responsibility between the province, Ottawa and the First Nation.

Very bad weather will also require additional flood protection for the Souris River towns of Melita and Souris, which both had close calls during the 2011 Assiniboine River basin flood. But even the worst-case scenario would not see the Souris rise as high as it did two years ago.

In all likelihood, the primary victims of the flood this spring -- aside from Peguis residents -- will be agricultural producers, who will once again find their farms submerged by overland flooding for weeks at a time. Some Red River Valley homes outside of ring dikes will be completely isolated, yet again.

But all in all, Manitoba has grown accustomed -- too accustomed -- to dealing with what now seems like a biannual hydrological event.

The ring dikes will be sealed, some roads will be submerged and the vast majority of Winnipeggers will spend their weekends cleaning their yards and grilling burgers, all but immune to the plight of the waters rising along Deadhorse Creek near Rosenfeld or the Antler River at Melita or Red Deer Lake at the tiny town that bears its name.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 11, 2013 A4

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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