Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Flooding despite freeze

Region also still suffering from 2011 overflow

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The entire province is under a deep-freeze and struggling to reach -20 C -- yet a provincial highway has been flooded out.

The province issued a travel alert Sunday warning drivers Highway 513 from Lake St. Martin to Lake Winnipeg was closed due to flooding from an ice jam. The affected section of the highway is near Gypsumville, about 261 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, and it's the lynchpin for a $5-million-a-year commercial fishery along the Dauphin River. The flooding also threw the ice fishery into the deep-freeze.

The area is part of the Interlake region swamped by flooding in 2011, and there are still 2,000 evacuees who have yet to return to their homes, mostly from First Nations in the area.

Flooding at the beginning of winter used to be unusual but it's become commonplace since 2011 because of a reef of debris that formed at the mouth of the river, Dale Einarsson, a councillor for the town of Dauphin River, said.

"When they used the emergency channel, debris piled up at the mouth of the river and it formed a reef. Now when the ice forms, the reef makes the water back up," she said.

Residents tried to persuade the province to dredge the river this summer but failed.

On Sunday, Dale and her husband, Dauphin River Mayor Helgi Einarsson, passed through the flooded-out stretch, about the time the province issued the notice the highway was flooded.

"I called back to the community and told everyone to stay where they were," Dale Einarsson said.

She said as soon as the couple felt their truck sink through the ice into deep water, her husband Helgi pushed through because stopping would stall the truck and strand them in the roughly 230-metre stretch of flooded highway.

"We were already in the middle of it when we went down. Helgi threw the truck into four-wheel drive and kept going," Einarsson said.

More serious, however is the impact of the flood on the fishery in the area.

The Einarssons continue to live in the tiny commercial fishing hub of Dauphin River, where 63 fishers still fish despite the evacuations.

"We'll be able to get out on the lake and set nets but we'd have to haul it out 80 kilometres to get it to the Freshwater Fish Marketing (Corporation)... and we can't get our trucks out there," Dale said. "Our economy is on hold again."

Last month, the province issued a bulletin warning the river might back up and flood the road with frazil ice at freeze-up.

Frazil ice, which has already begun to form because of the colder weather, is a result of slush and ice crystals that form on open water before complete freeze-up, and has the potential to cause a jam and sudden river rises of a metre or more, a provincial spokesman said Sunday.

Earlier this year, the Selinger government gave the green light to a $250-million plan to mitigate flooding on Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin by 2021.

Construction will begin in 2016 on a new channel to drain Lake Manitoba into Lake St. Martin. An emergency channel built in 2011 to lower water levels on Lake St. Martin will be made permanent and perhaps expanded.


-- with files from Larry Kusch

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 9, 2013 A3


Updated on Monday, December 9, 2013 at 6:51 AM CST: Replaces photo

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