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Floodwaters continue perilous rise

Action plan vowed for today as danger grows

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The 2014 Assiniboine River flood is looking more like the feared 2011 event with each passing day, and Manitoba's emergency measures minister is not ruling out calling in the military to help shore up dikes.

Steve Ashton said the province will present a plan of action today to deal with an increasingly grave situation.

Late Thursday afternoon, provincial flood officials significantly upped their forecast flows along the Assiniboine from a prediction a scant 24 hours earlier.

It's now expected flows into the Portage reservoir will peak at somewhere between 48,000 and 52,000 cubic feet per second in the next week. On Wednesday, flood officials had pegged flows into the reservoir at 45,000 to 47,000 cfs. At its peak in 2011, when the emergency Hoop and Holler outlet was carved out of the south bank of the Assiniboine River southeast of Portage la Prairie, flows into the reservoir peaked at 52,300 cfs.

Reached by telephone late Thursday, Ashton refused to speculate on how much water may have to be directed via the Portage Diversion channel into Lake Manitoba and how much will flow down the Assiniboine east of Portage.

"We're assessing the implications of the current forecast," he said.

"This surge of water is going to put every flood-fighting tool that we have available -- it's going to push it to the limit."

The new forecast suggests the diversion will likely be used to its maximum, and Assiniboine River flows between Portage and Headingley could approach levels last seen in 2011 when crews of private contractors and Canadian Armed Forces personnel bolstered provincial efforts to prevent dikes from failing.

Ashton said his department has called in outside experts and retired employees to help deal with what he called "a unique event." They are looking at "both the immediate implications of the forecast but also what our response will be."

Asked about the possibility of involving the military, the minister said he wouldn't hesitate to call for their help if needed. Under normal protocols, that would not be done unless there were no other resources available.

"What we determine in terms of the (appropriate flood) response over the next few days will really determine whether we would call the military in. At this time it would be premature to speculate on whether we would call them in," he said.

Before the province upgraded its river forecast late Thursday, residents and business owners along the Assiniboine were already concerned about what the future might bring.

Wednesday's news -- that river flows would increase by 50 per cent -- was bad enough.

One estimate says 12,000 acres of canola, soybeans and vegetables crops might be drowned out in the RM of St. François Xavier alone.

The owner of a campground, just off the Trans-Canada Highway in the same municipality, has written off its entire summer season.

Has Koria, owner of the Winnipeg West KOA Campground south of the White Horse monument, said his facility had been booked solid for July.

But with the river flows set to exceed 15,000 cfs -- his campground begins to flood at about 11,000 cfs -- he knows his operation will be inundated with water as it was in 2011.

Koria spent much of the day Thursday contacting customers to advise them of the impending flood.

"We're done for the season, as far as I'm concerned," Koria said. "By the time you do all the cleanup it will be the end of August."

Just a short distance away, Stephen Burdy complained early Thursday provincial officials weren't being forthcoming with flood information.

"The numbers that they gave the municipality (on Wednesday), pardon the pun, didn't hold water," he said.

As it turned out, the province revised the severity of its forecast on Thursday.

Burdy's acreage and others along the river, south of the Trans-Canada, saw flooding in 2011, although all the houses were spared.

Although dikes along the river were fortified in 2011 and afterwards, he worries they won't hold. Some have no vegetation on them to hold the soil together.

"Everything has been saturated now for three months. And if we have that river moving over land, there's no telling how much erosion is going to take place," he said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 4, 2014 A4

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Updated on Friday, July 4, 2014 at 10:27 AM CDT: Adds live player for press conference with Premier Greg Selinger.

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