Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Landowners scoff at province's claim diversion had small impact

Cottagers, expert dismiss notion Lake Manitoba rose only 3.6 inches

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Landowners around Lake Manitoba accuse the province of misleading the public with its recent report that claims the Portage Diversion had minimal impact on lake flooding in 2011.

The government report, released late last year, states the Portage Diversion created an "artificial increase" on Lake Manitoba of a mere 3.6 inches. The increase, from water diverted from the Assiniboine River, is only barely above the lake's "natural level" if it had no flood control structure, ie. the Fairford Dam.

The government said its findings are "reviewed and validated" by an independent engineering company.

"It's just disgusting," said Philip Thordarson, reeve for the RM of Lakeview, which borders the southwest corner of Lake Manitoba. "How could they say that when we saw water on top of our bridges, and even take out a bridge?"

Twin Beaches cottage owner Andy Zubrycki said the report threw salt in the wounds of people who suffered losses in the flood. "People are obviously very upset. They think it's a very underhanded way of stating the facts," said Zubrycki, a Winnipeg pharmacist.

The report doesn't jibe with an email Zubrycki received from Phillip Mutulu, who was the province's flood forecaster at the time but who has since moved to Alberta. Mutulu said the Portage Diversion raised Lake Manitoba by 4.13 feet. Zubrycki shared the email with the Free Press.

"The total volume carried by the Portage Diversion in 2011 was 4.7 million acre-feet, or 5,800 million cubic metres. This is equivalent to 4.13 feet of storage on Lake Manitoba," Mutulu said in an email, in answer to questions from Zubrycki.

There are two reasons for the discrepancy in figures, according to the province. One, the province's report determined the Fairford Dam released about two feet of water from Lake Manitoba at the same time the Portage Diversion was diverting water into it in 2011. That cuts the 4.13 feet Mutulu calculated down to about two feet.

But the province also maintains the Fairford Dam, a flood control structure built in 1961 to allow outflow from Lake Manitoba, had a cumulative effect in the years prior to 2011 of reducing Lake Manitoba by two feet. Therefore, the water from the Portage Diversion produced a negligible increase beyond the lake's "natural level." The report acknowledges there is some conjecture involved in forming the latter estimate.

"What the report... shows is the degree to which the operation of the Portage Diversion had very minimal impact on the lake," Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation Steve Ashton said at a news conference when the report was released.

But people hurt in the flood don't think that's a fair way to assess whether they were deliberately flooded to save other parts of southern Manitoba. The report seems to say because the province gave the lake some flood control with the Fairford Dam, it's justified in taking it away and returning the lake to "natural levels," said Zubrycki.

"The government is saying it was not flooding us. It was only taking away the benefit we received from the Fairford Dam over the past few decades," said Zubrycki. "Why can't they be more acknowledging that the main reason Lake Manitoba rose from April to July is because they used the Portage Diversion?"

The province is facing at least two flood-related lawsuits, including a $260-million class-action suit by six Lake Manitoba flood victims for the alleged deliberate flooding of Lake Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2014 A7

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