Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Property owners fear repeat of 2011 flood

Portage Diversion again pushing water into lake

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It's a conversation being heard all around Lake Manitoba this weekend -- is history repeating itself?

All eyes are on the Portage Diversion and how much water the province is pushing through it from the still-swollen Assiniboine River into Lake Manitoba, now approaching official flood stage, just like it did during the disastrous 2011 flood. Three years ago, hundreds of properties around the lake were destroyed by high water and punishing waves.

Jack King, past president of the Twin Lakes Beach Association, said the province has to substantially reduce the amount of water it's sending through the diversion into the lake.

On Thursday, the last readings posted by the province, almost 7,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water was flowing through the diversion.

"Unless there is something dramatic and soon to get the inflow from the diversion down around 3,000 cfs... we'll certainly be over flood stage," King said. Flood stage on Lake Manitoba is 814 feet.

Lake Manitoba was recorded at 813.08 ft. above sea level on Thursday, more than one foot above the top end of its desired level for this time of year. The province says Lake Manitoba is forecast to peak at 813.5 to 813.8 ft. in late June to early July.

The amount of a water being sent through the diversion is about one-fifth of what it was during the 2011 flood, when the province increased its capacity to 34,000 cfs and Lake Manitoba saw its level peak at 817.05 feet.

The province says what's compounding the situation this year on Lake Manitoba is high inflows from the Waterhen River, about 9,700 cfs, and the Whitemud River due to higher-than-normal rain and runoff. The province is also running the Fairford control structure wide open to move water from Lake Manitoba into Lake St. Martin.

If rainfall is heavier than expected, the province said it is prepared to reopen an emergency outlet built in 2011 to drain Lake St. Martin into Lake Winnipeg.

King said if Lake Manitoba floods again, and properties fixed from 2011 are damaged, a portion of Twin Lakes Beach might be closed indefinitely.

"Even an optimistic person would see an exodus out of here," he said. "I can't see people rebuilding year after year."

King and others are currently seeking support from others around the lake, including municipal officials, the Manitoba Metis Federation and four affected First Nations, to pressure the province to suspend its use of the diversion.

Last week, the province attempted to send less water through the diversion and more down the Assiniboine River through Winnipeg, in part to lessen pressure on Lake Manitoba. However, weekend rainstorms raised the river's level and caused localized flooding just west of the city. In response, the province lowered the level on the Assiniboine River in favour of using the diversion.

The province says more than double the normal amount of precipitation for the last two months has fallen along much of the Assiniboine River Valley, causing the higher levels.

Meanwhile, any prediction for when the city's River Walk might again be open won't be available until next week when officials know the impact of forecast heavy rainstorms this weekend in the Red River basin south of Winnipeg.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 31, 2014 A5

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