Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dikes, not flooding, ravaged Souris

Buildings, trees made way for unneeded work

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SOURIS -- Larry Sadler's property along Plum Creek was like a treed park before last year's flood.

Then the Souris River flooded Minot, N.D., and the province moved in to protect Manitoba towns along the river system.

The province erected a 15-foot-high dike that was wide enough to drive a truck on on Sadler's lot. In the process, it bulldozed 100 trees and 400 Saskatoon bushes on Sadler's land, where he runs Sadler's Creekside Greenhouse.

He also had five greenhouses in the way.

"They told us to take them down or they'd take them down for us," he said. (They removed one elderly woman's garage before she could remove the things inside.)

The water barely touched the dike.

"We didn't have any water damage. We just had dike damage," Sadler said, estimating losses from the dikes alone at $140,000.

For most Winnipeggers, the flood of 2011 was a non-event. They can hardly comprehend the difficulties felt in rural Manitoba, and why people there hope the upcoming flood reviews will finally explain what went so wrong in last year's flood fight.

In Wawanesa, many people say the province strongly overreacted. (Melita and Hartney were also impacted.) Hindsight is 20-20 but at one spot on a mammoth 21-foot-high dike inside the Town of Souris, the water didn't come within 12 feet of the top. That's 3.5 metres of freeboard.

Gerry Williams, a councillor with the RM of Glenwood, which surrounds the town of Souris, pointed to a 10-foot-high dike along Plum Creek, near where it empties into the Souris. Water from the Souris was expected to back up the creek.

"This part over here was overkill. It's easy to second-guess, but they should have been able to figure it out," Williams said.

The province overestimated the Souris River crest by three feet. Provincial flood forecasters -- and it was a team approach in 2011 -- didn't realize the Souris would overtop its banks before reaching Melita and spread out for three to four kilometres over farmland. The province also didn't realize a railway bridge 10 kilometres west of town protects the town in similar fashion.

Inside North Dakota, the J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge near the Manitoba border has a series of dams and water-storage systems that also took up reservoirs of water.

Jack Roberts lost close to 50 trees in front of his home due to diking. Close to 1,000 trees were bulldozed inside the town of Souris alone, some more than 100 years old. Trees may be expendable, but people have lost their privacy. Every fence along the river also got ripped out to build the dikes. Some people lost garages. One couple sold their house and bought another one just as the flood reared up. The buyers nixed the sale because the dike "significantly altered the property" and the couple got stuck with two houses.

The other problem is the trees and other vegetation that were removed are part of what keeps the riverbanks stable. The Souris and Plum shorelines will be much more susceptible to erosion in high water now.

Not everyone is critical of the province.

"A lot of people are engineers after the fact," said Souris resident Jamie Kohut. "If we'd got another three inches of rain, you wouldn't hear people complain."

Dike heights weren't premised on three inches (7.5 centimetres) of rain, however, but only on water the province forecast was coming up the Souris from North Dakota.

"They built the dikes by the forecasts, but the forecasts were wrong. It was an overreaction," said Don Jackson, who still has a 6.5-foot-high, 50-foot-wide dike in his backyard.

Now people are struggling to get assistance under Disaster Financial Assistance, which pays out 80 per cent of accepted claims. That has been frustrating. Sadler, with one of the biggest losses, was recently told to reapply at another office.

Almost half of the 4,400 flood claims in Manitoba, excluding those on Lake Manitoba, have been processed so far, said Lee Spencer, Emergency Measures Organization director of recovery.

Cleanup of diking is up to local municipalities. Towns like Souris must also decide which diking will be permanent, Spencer said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2012 A6

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