Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

First Nations hit hard by flood

1,300 vacate reserves, while farmers fear cropless year

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The flood isn't over yet, but so far it looks like First Nations are bearing the brunt of the damage and inconvenience.

Of the more than 1,900 people registered as flood evacuees as of Saturday, nearly 1,300 were from First Nations, emergency measures director Don Brennan said during a provincial flood update Saturday afternoon. Those include the Sioux Valley, Roseau River, Peguis and Fisher River First Nations.

"The most significant impact in this flood thus far has been on First Nation communities," said emergency measures minister Steve Ashton.

Of the 300 homes around the province known to be damaged by ice-jam floods and overland flooding, 100 are on the Peguis First Nation. Chief Glenn Hudson said 70 per cent of the reserve is underwater from the flooding Fisher River, with 740 people still out of the community after a mandatory evacuation last week.

Although First Nations are a federal responsibility, Hudson believes the federal government drags its feet on providing aid.

"When it comes down to seeking damages and obviously to address our flooding issues, the federal government is very slow in terms of putting dollars in place for us to address the issues here in the community," he said.

Hudson said Peguis is currently involved in a study examining flooding in the community, but needs to reach an agreement with the province and Ottawa about how best to mitigate floods in the future.

A spokesperson for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada could not be reached for comment Saturday night.

Ashton said the province is in contact with the federal government about future flood mitigation efforts.

Officials reiterated Saturday that Manitobans can't put the flood behind them yet, as the crest has not yet made its way through the Red River Valley. The crest is moving at a snail's pace, said flood forecaster Alf Warkentin, pointing out it took seven days for it to get through Emerson.

"It shows you how slow this whole thing is moving," he said.

Warkentin warned that if heavy rains hit, they could potentially cause the river to crest again. As it is, water levels could still be as high as 15 feet by mid-May even with normal precipitation.

As well, strong winds could raise water levels by as much as a foot.

"Wind effects could be very significant in the next week," he said.

River levels between Lockport and Breezy Point continue to drop slowly, while the Souris River is starting to rise more quickly near Coulter.

Levels on the Assiniboine are declining, although flooding is ongoing from St. Lazare to Brandon, where the crest is currently located.

The province is sending more sandbags to Melita to help construct a 750-metre dike along PTH 3, and more sandbags have been sent to the RMs of Pembina, Souris and Argyle.

Responding to complaints about tube dike breaches along Christie Road in Winnipeg, Ashton said the tubes on that road were the first ones deployed by the City of Winnipeg and were not installed correctly.

A provincial spokeswoman said the tubes were deployed as an experiment and used for secondary dikes. The tubes weren't fully filled with water, she said, and instead of a layer of three tubes, just one layer was used.

Ashton said the province will keep using flood tubes along with clay and sandbag dikes, and pointed to their success in areas like West St. Paul.

"We don't stop using sandbags when sandbag dikes fail," he said.

With their fields still swamped, farmers in the Red River Valley and several other areas of southern Manitoba expect a late start to spring seeding this year.

"Definitely everything is pushed back," said Ian Wishart, a Portage la Prairie farmer and president of Keystone Agricultural Producers.

"In a normal spring we're all in the field by the 8th or the 10th of May," he said Friday. "But now we're looking at (being) at least a week behind that, if not two."

Manitoba Agriculture Minister Rosann Wowchuk expects that, given the amount of water on fields in the Red River Valley and the Interlake, some farmers will not be able to plant a crop this year.

After 1997's "Flood of the Century," most fields in the Red River Valley were drained in time to plant crops, Wowchuk said, and many farmers had a decent harvest as the weather co-operated.

"If the water comes off quickly and we get some warm temperatures, things could turn around very quickly," she said.

-- With files from Larry Kusch



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 19, 2009 A5

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