Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dike-building focus turns to lakes

Lots of infrastructure threatened by water expected to remain high for extended time

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The next round of dike-building this spring will be on the province's lakes to protect roads, homes, cottages and even sewage lagoons.

Cottages in low areas on Oak Lake near Brandon have already been sandbagged as water levels continue to rise, even before the ice has completely melted. Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg are also slowly rising -- Lake Manitoba is so high the Fairford Dam at its north outlet is operating at capacity.

Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said Wednesday one of the next priorities will be rebuilding a dike built in 2005 so communities on the east of Lake Winnipeg's south basin are protected from flooding.

"Clearly, we're going to be interested in protecting infrastructure," Ashton said. "As we move from the Red and Assiniboine, I think a lot of attention will be on our lakes because they are going to stay very high for an extended period of time."

The dike that protects Winnipeg Beach was partially destroyed in a storm last October and needs to be fixed as quickly as possible, Winnipeg Beach resident Ann Cook said. Her property south of Winnipeg Beach was flooded in October after the dike near her property was washed out.

"They never finished that dike," Cook said of ice-covered Lake Winnipeg. "It was just a thin wall of clay. They never seeded it. They never put landscape cloth on it and they certainly didn't armour it with rocks. Now there are only shards of the dike left. It's so susceptible."

Cook said in addition to the risk to her property is the threat to the nearby Winnipeg Beach sewage lagoon. A berm protects the lagoon but the lake is inching ever so slowly towards it.

"This is stuff that can't wait," Cook said. "As soon as the ice is off that lake, we're done."

The dike was built in the late summer of 2005 when high lake levels threatened properties throughout the south basin, including in Gimli. Between 2005 and 2007, the province spent $12 million to build 50 kilometres of dikes, including replacing dikes first built in 1974.

Most of the earthen dikes were built at a height of 724 feet above sea level to protect communities from a one-in-50-years storm. The province now forecasts the lake to be at a wind-eliminated level of 716 feet in June.

"One of the challenges, quite frankly, is going to be is just how high the lake levels are going to be," Ashton said. "Until you see the full draining through the system, it's hard to get a gauge on it."

Besides the threat from a storm, sewage lagoons on the east side of Lake Winnipeg are also at risk of overflowing due to rainstorms.

Two years ago, heavy rainfall overloaded waste-water treatment lagoons in Gimli and Winnipeg Beach, forcing Manitoba Conservation to authorize an emergency release of waste water into Lake Winnipeg.

Watching the rivers


The forecast crest of the Red River will be below 2009 levels for all points on the river.

The crests of the Red and Assiniboine rivers will likely coincide in Winnipeg on April 30.

The Assiniboine River crest in Brandon is expected May 2.

The earlier crest in Winnipeg is due to the Portage Diversion, which funnels water from the Assiniboine into Lake Manitoba, officials said.

Water levels at James Avenue in downtown Winnipeg increased 0.23 feet from Tuesday to Wednesday to 18.59 feet. Flows on the river downtown are about 52,600 cubic feet per second. Flows in the Red River Floodway are about 32,900 cfs and are expected to increase when the crest arrives.

The Wawanesa School was closed Tuesday after water seeped into its basement crawl space. The school is near the Souris River, which crested Tuesday. High flows are expected for the next few days. Students are attending classes in other town buildings.

1,984 people have been displaced from their homes, mostly due to road closures.

There are 23 rural municipalities with states of local emergency.

Officials say they won't know the true extent of flood damage until after water recedes. More than 590 municipal roads and 78 roads have been affected by flooding, with many rural roads partially washed out.

The STARS air ambulance has flown 33 trips and conducted 17 patient transports since April 1. The 17 patient transports included heart attacks, strokes, trauma incidents and urgent pediatric cases.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2011 A3

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