Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Move quicker,' province urged

Farmers, residents demand lake outlet

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Residents demand immediate action to build a channel out of Lake Manitoba.

SARAH TAYLOR / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Residents demand immediate action to build a channel out of Lake Manitoba. Photo Store

Lilli Schneider has lived in Twin Lakes Beach for a large part of her life.

Her house used to be right on the shore of Lake Manitoba. It still is -- although it was moved back 27 metres after the flood of 2011 damaged it. The property it's on used to be 133 metres long. Now it's about half of that.

The rising levels of the lake have been threatening the whole Twin Lakes Beach area, Schneider said, and it's been worrying her.

"(I'm waiting for) if I get a phone call that I have to leave and turn off the power. You can't think of anything else. This thing has totally dominated my life for four years," she said.

Schneider was one of about 70 farmers and residents around Lake Manitoba who are calling on the province to quickly build a channel to let water out of the lake, as rising water levels are destroying their way of life.

The residents gathered at the farm of Mark Peters, northwest of Portage la Prairie, on Tuesday afternoon.

Peters invited people to see the Portage Diversion for themselves, as only by seeing it can they understand the damage it's doing through seepage into the surrounding fields, he said.

"It's important you see it instead of just hearing or reading about it... You're going to see a lot of water in the field. That's not from rain," Peters said.

Tom Teichroeb, one of the organizers and chairman of the Lake Manitoba Flood Rehabilitation Committee, said the rising lake is threatening the livelihoods of residents. Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton announced Monday a Lake Manitoba outlet is at least seven years away, and Teichroeb said that's unacceptable.

"We need to move quicker... We need flood-mitigation measures immediately. Not seven years, not three years, not two, now," Teichroeb said.

Teichroeb owns a cattle ranch near Langruth. In 2011, he was forced to relocate his cattle after much of the land they were grazing on was flooded. If the flood worsens, he said he might be forced to sell his cattle.

Many of the other farmers in attendance had similar stories. Philip Thordarson, reeve of the RM of Lakeview and owner of a mixed farm, said the flood of 2011 and the most recent flood reduced how much land he can use and how much feed he can grow for his cattle. All that has directly impacted his bottom line.

"We're just looking at losses and increased expenses. It's been very difficult," Thordarson said. An outlet to reduce the lake level would go a long way to helping him regain his land, and be secure knowing the chance of flooding is greatly reduced, he said.

"It would make all the difference... It would give us so much more stability, and a feeling that we can go ahead and invest in our community," he said.

But the seven years the province is currently calculating is far too long, he said. In that time, there could be several major floods such as the ones in the past years, and Thordarson said he doesn't know if he can handle even one.

"That would be absolutely terrible. And if we do have to handle another one, then shame on the government for no longer caring about rural Manitoba," he said.

Also in attendance were representatives of the RMs and communities in the area, including Portage la Prairie Reeve Kam Blight.

Blight said he is supportive of a lake outlet channel, and was surprised to hear it would take seven years.

"All due respect to the province, but that's unacceptable. I can't have my people sitting on pins and needles, waiting for what's going to happen," he said.

oliver.sachgau@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 16, 2014 A1

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