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Welcome to soggy Manitoba

This year's massive flood will affect campers, cottagers and beach-goers well into the summer

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Hundreds of Manitobans are still living behind sandbag walls this weekend, but in the weeks ahead thousands of others will find out for themselves what this year's flood is all about.

The 2011 flood will affect beach-goers, cottagers and occasional visitors to The Forks, where the River Walkway will likely be under water well into the summer.

River and lake levels will be far above normal throughout most of July.

"It's going to have a very significant impact on our lakes," Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton told a recent flood briefing. "And you're not going to see The Forks (walkway) for a while, I tell you that."

Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg are already above regulated levels and many smaller lakes such as Oak Lake and Pelican Lake in western Manitoba are at levels higher than they've been in decades.

Lake Manitoba, filled up by the Portage Diversion, is expected to crest in mid-June. Lake Manitoba eventually flows into Lake Winnipeg, which is expected to crest in mid-July.

Lake of the Woods and the Winnipeg River are also high. Forecasters in Ontario say lake levels are already well above normal for this time of year.

Except for some notable exceptions, provincial campgrounds are open. "For the most part, it's going to be business as usual this weekend," said Elisabeth Ostrop with the Manitoba Parks branch.

Some provincial campgrounds, such as the lower campground at Kiche Manitou in Spruce Woods Provincial Park, will not open until close to the August long weekend. Lundar Beach, St. Ambroise and Watchorn parks on Lake Manitoba are closed for the season because of flooding.

On the first day of camping reservations in April, a record 13,995 sites were booked. Ostrop said if your favourite campsite is closed, there are plenty in Manitoba from which to choose.

For the third consecutive year, entry into Manitoba's provincial parks is free.

On the sand beaches of Lake Winnipeg -- what's left of them following last October's "weather-bomb" storm -- it will be a challenge to pitch an umbrella or lay down a towel on days when even a slight north wind pushes the water up.

There are also some changes to two popular beaches at Victoria Beach. A rock wall, or a revetment, now takes up part of Arthur and Patricia beaches. On nearby King Edward and Alexander beaches, a wall of large black sandbags, reinforced with rocks, hugs the base of cliffs. The revetment and the sandbags were recently put up to protect against further erosion caused by large waves. Both these and other, similar projects in the south basin of Lake Winnipeg were constructed to guard the shoreline against big waves washing away private property.

For example, West Beach is closed as work continues at rebuilding the boardwalk destroyed in last October's storm.

Dikes in the south basin to protect homes, cottages and roads from flooding have also been shored up.

Ashton said while most lakes in southern Manitoba are at flood stage, in northern Manitoba it's just the opposite.

"When I travel through my area and in the north, we've had below-normal precipitation," he said. "Many of our lakes are fairly low. We could be ending up with floods in southern Manitoba and forest fires in northern Manitoba."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 21, 2011 A6

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