TWIN LAKES BEACH -- The flood zone around Lake Manitoba will soon go into a realm of suspended animation.
Within days the lake, still about three feet higher than it should be, will freeze over and snow will hide much of this year's shoreline destruction to cottages, homes, farms and, in the worst cases, entire communities to the north and on neighbouring Lake St. Martin.
In some cases, where it's safe, some permanent residents will be allowed to return home for the winter months. The only signs of life on this grey, windy day are deer that wander between those buildings still standing and a single horned owl sitting in the window of an empty cottage. A scraggly coyote has been spotted by a few people.
Otherwise it's dead. To the west is Delta Beach, normally a base for fall hunters, but now a ghost town. The mandatory evacuation order is still in effect. Many cottages remain sitting in metres of water or in crumpled heaps.
On a long stretch of Twin Lakes Beach, it looks more like the moon. Dozens of damaged cottages have been demolished and the debris cleared by heavy machinery--they were wrecked beyond repair in a May 31 storm and a few had severe mould from sitting in water too long to be habitable again.
More will likely come down next year.
"There were all buildings through here," RM of Woodlands recovery manager Al Caron said, pointing to what was once a vibrant summer community, but unrecognizable now. Many trees are also gone, wiped out by the flood surge or by demolition crews. "You have 10-ton backhoes driving around and you try to be as careful as you can, but it's hard with a piece of machinery like that. Things get wrecked."
The danger to those homes and cottages still standing from fall storms goes down with the temperature. The biggest threat will come in the spring when thick ice on the lake breaks up.
At Delta, Twin Lakes Beach and Sandpiper Beach further to the east, the province and local RMs have installed long lengths of huge, sand-filled tubes to protect those homes and cottages still intact. The fear is with water still being high, and the shoreline forever altered, the wind will blow that ice through trees still standing and into homes and cottages.
The wave attenuation trial project, the first of its kind in Manitoba, borrows expert know-how in protecting vulnerable coastal communities from Florida, New Orleans and Playa Del Carmen.
Doug McMahon, executive director of water control and structures for Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation, said the budget for the project was $10 million, but only $3.5 million was spent installing the geo-tubes.
The original goal was to put down up to 17 kilometres of the tubes, but only 3.8 kilometres got done at the three locations. The difficulties of working in a flood zone with the huge tubes limited what could finished safely before freeze-up.
"I think everyone would have desired more to be accomplished, but because of the conditions, especially in the water, it was a lot more difficult than anyone envisioned," McMahon said.
Caron said the geo-tubes are made up of a heavy fabric. Sand from the lake's bottom was dredged and pumped into them to fill them up. Any excess lake water seeped out through the material, leaving only hard, compacted sand and small rocks inside the tube. That work only recently finished.
"It wasn't like dealing with nice white silica sand," Caron said of filling the tubes, which when empty are big enough to drive a minivan through. "There's a lot of debris in the lake. Even things like forks and knives. They had to filter that out."
The tubes will stay in place until next October, when it's forecast the lake will be at a safe level. Removal should be relatively simple -- they're sliced open to spill the sand out and the fabric is hauled away.
The fear is the ice could do that in the spring. Shards could cut through the tubes like a knife through sausage.
"That's a possibility," Caron said.
"The only experience they've had with ice in this application was somewhere in Ontario. And the only real problem they had with it was from snowmobilers."
The other question regarding how long the geo-tubes stay in place is what happens after the thaw.
Should there be another year of flooding on the Assiniboine River, the Assiniboine Diversion outside Portage la Prairie will be called into service again, sending more excess water into Lake Manitoba and away from Winnipeg.
Reclaiming Twin Lakes Beach
THE RM of Woodlands wants flooded-out cottagers to rebuild at Twin Lakes Beach.
It has also put a plan in place for permanent residents to return to the area once the lake freezes over and it's deemed safe.
Currently, Manitoba Hydro is installing a new line in the area along the roadway, replacing the old one that ran more along the cottage line and had to be replaced.
"You want to make the area back to the way it was," the RM's recovery manager, Al Caron, said.
In the RM's area of Twin Lakes Beach, about 25 cottages were removed and hauled away to the landfill. In the RM of St. Laurent's portion of Twin Lakes Beach, a number of other cottages must be removed as will a number of cottages at Delta Beach in the RM of Portage la Prairie.
"I have a feeling that come spring there's going to be some things, because there's still water in the area, that will surface and will have to be cleaned up," Caron said.
"If you go back four months from now, you would have seen quite a different picture," Caron said. "There were buildings hanging into the lake with whole front walls missing. There was debris everywhere, septic tanks floating around; all that's been cleaned up.
"We have made a lot of progress. The folks here that I've talked to, they really see a difference in the RM of Woodlands. I think there's a degree of hope down the road for them to come back."