Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Flood, election day could coincide

City hopes Assiniboine, Red don't crest together

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While it's too soon to write this in stone, it looks as if the Red River could crest in Winnipeg on federal election day.

On Tuesday, U.S. flood forecasters predicted the Red River will crest in Fargo, N.D., Sunday evening or Monday morning.

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Since it takes approximately two weeks for the crest to reach Emerson and another week to wind up to Winnipeg, the peak of the 2011 flood appears to be due in the Manitoba capital on or around May 2, when voters go to the polls.

As recently as Monday, the province issued "an educated guess" the Red will crest in Winnipeg between May 6 and 13. An earlier crest has implications beyond the federal election.

On Tuesday, provincial flood forecasters were consulting with their U.S. counterparts to determine the hydrological impact on Manitoba, where the greatest fear involves the Red reaching its peak in Winnipeg at the same time as its largest tributary, the Assiniboine River.

For now, the province continues to predict the Red will crest somewhere between 20 and 23 feet above normal winter ice levels at James Avenue, with an outside chance bad weather could drive up the Red to 24.1 feet. The City of Winnipeg is preparing for the latter scenario, which would require 560 low-lying properties to be protected by sandbag dikes.

With the Red on the rise, owners of 110 of those properties have been advised to build sandbag dikes this week. Most are located in the southern part of the city, where static ice on the Red is affecting river levels.

On Cloutier Drive in St. Norbert, Don and Connie Sullivan returned early from a Florida vacation to ensure their property is ready for the sandbag dike city surveyors have already staked out.

They've scraped all the snow from the side of their house, installed two sump pumps and raised the height of the outlet pipe to ensure it can spill over the dike.

"We wanted to make sure we were ready to go," said Don Sullivan, standing in rubber boots. "I'm very concerned, although I'm not as nervous as I was in 1997."

The city will begin delivering sandbags today and is asking volunteer dike-builders to call 311.

Two kilometres upstream, the Red began spilling over the lip of the Red River Floodway, even though its floodway control structure won't operate for another week or two, when river ice begins moving freely, Manitoba Water Stewardship said.

The Red normally spills into the floodway when the river reaches 18 feet James. The river had only risen to 15.5 feet on Tuesday, but ice at the Courchene Bridge likely allowed the spill to occur.

Closer to the Red's source, the U.S. National Weather Service predicted tributaries upstream from Fargo -- the Bois des Sioux, Wild Rice and Otter Tail rivers -- would soon crest and send flows converging on North Dakota's largest city.

The Red is expected to reach 39.5 feet in Fargo on Sunday evening or Monday morning. The river could crest as high as 41 feet on Monday if it rains in the region over the next five days.

"The higher range value includes precipitation through Sunday. The forecast for the crest will depend on any additional precipitation and will change if it occurs," the weather services said on its website.

The highest crest on record in Fargo was 40.84 feet in 2009, but the city is preparing against a 42-foot crest.

Emergency services co-ordinator Leon Schlafmann said much of Fargo's defences are actually built up even higher, due to initial flood forecasts that were much more dire.

"We can still go back up to the 44-foot mark without a lot of extra planning," he said, referring to additional sandbags that could be placed on temporary dikes.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 6, 2011 A3

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