Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ice jams near Selkirk increase flood threat

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Another community declared an emergency Tuesday and the province confirmed Canada's military is already is on the ground eyeballing the flood situation in the unlikely event they're called in to help.Selkirk called a state of emergency to boost its flood-fighting efforts as the threat of flooding increases because of ice jams backing up water on the Red River. The rural municipalities of East St. Paul, West St. Paul, Blanchard, St. Laurent, Franklin and St. Clements are also under a state of emergency.

Don Brennan, acting executive director of Manitoba's Emergency Measures Organization, said liaison officers with the military are currently being appraised of the flood situation should soldiers be deployed to help in building dikes and emergency transportation.

"They're just being proactive," Brennan said.

In 1997, thousands of Canadian soldiers were sent to Manitoba to hold back the Red River. At the time it was the largest deployment of the armed forces since the Korean War. This spring, flood forecasters expect more a flood of inconvenience than what Manitobans experienced during the Flood of the Century.

What's different this year is the amount of ice on the river and the danger it poses. Officials are carefully monitoring the breakup of ice on the Red River from St. Adolphe, south of Winnipeg, north to Lake Winnipeg. A two-hour helicopter flight Tuesday showed much of the river is still solid with ice except for a few stretches of open water. The daily flights record the progress of the ice breakup on video to help flood fighters, including the military, on the ground plan accordingly.

"The risk of ice jams is higher because of the cooler weather," said Steve Topping, spokesperson for Manitoba Water Stewardship.

Brennan and Topping said the flood forecast remains unchanged and will likely stay that way through to the end of the week. Cold weather has slowed the spring melt and significantly decreased the threat of southern Manitoba seeing a flood on par with the one in 1997. A snowstorm in North Dakota, expected to dump up to 30 centimetres, will have little impact on the flood situation as it will not melt quickly enough to add to runoff already in the river.

"We're still in a holding pattern," Brennan said. "Now it's up to Mother Nature. We're ready to go when Mother Nature gives us that call."

Topping said the focus now is unclogging frozen culverts throughout all of southern Manitoba to reduce the threat of overland flooding and ditches backing up into farms and homes. The province now has 37 high-pressure steamers working from Virden to Treherne to Arborg and south of Winnipeg.

Topping said up to 90 per cent of culverts east of the Red River are frozen solid and 50 per cent of culverts west of the river are blocked.

Officials are also monitoring the Pembina and Souris rivers in western Manitoba for spring flooding.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 1, 2009 A7

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