Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Federal flood strategy urged

Ashton demands Ottawa's help

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The cabinet minister overseeing Manitoba's flood fight says Ottawa owes communities like Peguis First Nation, which are swamped year after year, a strategy to combat the annual flooding threat.

"There needs to be an ongoing national flood mitigation fund," Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton told a daily news conference updating the 2011 flood Thursday.

Most of the 669 Manitobans who have been evacuated from flood-ravaged areas come from Peguis, said Ashton, who noted it's far from the first time they've had to leave their homes.

"Some of them were out for months on end," Ashton said of the evacuations from the flood of 2009. "How many more times do people have to go through a flood event?"

Even after the waters subside, said Ashton, "There's huge impacts that go with mould contamination."

He pointed out that $130 million went into flood prevention in southern Manitoba after the 1997 flood -- the worst since 1852 -- and expansion of the Red River Floodway has cost $665 million. But there is no ongoing fund and no national strategy, he said.

Ashton said Premier Greg Selinger called Prime Minister Stephen Harper Wednesday to implore the federal government to alleviate flooding on First Nations.

Peguis could benefit from a combination of projects, including relocation of dozens of houses and widespread drainage improvement, Ashton said. "Many homes are in a very challenging situation in regards to drainage."

Ashton repeatedly hammered home the message Thursday that while there have been some adjustments to the flood forecast for Manitoba, 2011 remains on par with the 2009 flood, and could even surpass it as the second-worst flood in 150 years.

"We will be into May before we hit the full crest on the Red River, and the Assiniboine River as well," Ashton said. "It will be equivalent to '09, possibly even higher."

Provincial officials said there are hundreds of roads affected by flooding, including 44 sections of provincial highways closed as of Thursday afternoon, and there will be more to come.

Ashton expects significant damage to roads and bridges. "The degree of overland flooding is unprecedented."

So far, Highway 75 remains open, but it's a question of when it closes and for how long, not if, Ashton warned.

Health officials have transferred 29 patients and residents of health-care centres and personal care homes in Wawanesa and Gladstone as a precautionary measure, and will move residents of a personal care home in St. Adolphe to Grunthal early next week.

Steve Topping of Manitoba Water Stewardship said the crest of the Red is now expected to reach Winnipeg April 30 to May 4. The Red is expected to crest in Emerson April 25 to 28, and the Assiniboine River will crest in Brandon April 22 to 28.

With water coming from western Manitoba and Saskatchewan, some rivers will crest twice.

Ashton said he met with a dozen MLAs from western Manitoba Thursday, all of whom told him their ridings are awash from overland flooding.

Topping said the province has retained a consultant to study options for flooding from land-locked Shoal Lake south of Riding Mountain National Park, which has flooded 8,000 hectares. Local municipalities favour using Wagon Creek to build a conduit to drain the water into Lake Manitoba, but that would cost $24 million.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 15, 2011 A4

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