WINNIPEG BEACH -- "It's like an ocean right now, only I'm not in Hawaii."
Judy Werier took a stroll down the boardwalk at Winnipeg Beach, looking at the huge waves on Lake Winnipeg Monday morning. Besides the thunderous roar of the waves on Manitoba's largest lake, there was a lot of water where her beloved childhood beach used to be.
"I've been coming here my whole life and I've never seen the water splash over onto the boardwalk like this," the Winnipeg Beach resident said as the strong north wind kicked up cool mist in her face. "We have a cottage on the lake and we are starting to get a little worried, as well. The water and wind are really damaging the shoreline.
"The roar (of the waves) is so loud. This is an ocean -- this is not a lake."
People at Winnipeg Beach, located on the western shore of the south basin, say the level of Lake Winnipeg is rising thanks to the high levels in lakes and tributaries to the west.
Just how much water the lake can handle before the concern turns to a serious situation is the million-dollar question here.
"It's quite spectacular and quite sad at the same time," offered Bev Radford, a resident since 1989. "I worry what will be left after this. You can see how the waves are taking away the beach. I'm not quite sure what's going to happen."
Tony Pimentel, the mayor of Winnipeg Beach, is keeping a calm perspective but wonders what will come later this week.
On Monday, the provincial government said Lake Winnipeg sat at 716.13 feet above sea level, or 1.13 feet above the upper limit of Manitoba Hydro's recommended operating range for the lake.
The issue for Pimentel is the water spilling over the new portion of the wall (built after the 2011 high-water scare) and eroding the sand away from the concrete base as it draws back into the lake. This could severely compromise the integrity of the structure, he said, and could create a bigger, more expensive problem down the road.
"I'm not sure the water will ever go down this year," he said as the waves pounded into the small seawall. "And come the fall, when we typically get our northeast storms in September, October, November, is when things could get a little scary. That's when we could see some substantial damage to this area."
What was once 10 metres of sand from the seawall to the water is now gone on the south side of the beach.
Officials are considering removing portions of the boardwalk after the tourist season in September to limit the damage and lower repair costs.
No decision will be made until later this summer, Pimentel said.
Like most of the province, Winnipeg Beach already suffered through a slow start to the tourist season, a summer stretch many shop owners in the area rely on to see them through the year. The churning of the waves nearby has helped interrupt a quiet summer, but it hasn't brought in new business.
"This summer is just not starting," said Lisa Adair, owner of the Breakwater ice cream and coffee shop. "People are walking around in parkas. And when we do have a nice day, there's no beach to keep them here."
Added Diane Smaizys, owner of Johnee's restaurant, a Winnipeg Beach institution since 1978: "We get only the regulars. It's not a disaster or anything, it's just really slow and that's part of the business. It could always be better, right?
"Maybe the big waves will bring people here during the day."
Despite the high water and lack of beach, the community expects a bump in visitors soon. Boardwalk Days, the annual fair, has the green light to go ahead this weekend, and Winnipeg Beach will celebrate its 100th anniversary in August.
"Come up here and see the waves," Pimentel joked, "It's like our own little ocean here."
-- with files from Bartley Kives