Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'We're in for it again any way you look at it'

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With word of the coming flood surge on the Assiniboine River, officials took stock of how many properties between Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie were at risk and what dikes needed bolstering.

They got a sickening sense the devastation seen in the 2011 flood, particularly on Lake Manitoba, could repeat itself, undoing any rebuilding during the past three years.

"We're in for it again any way you look at it," St. Laurent Reeve Earl Zotter said.

Unofficial numbers put Lake Manitoba at 814.46 feet above sea level -- a tad more than its flood stage of 814 feet.

Zotter said he fears that with the expected use of the Portage Diversion to move water from the bloated Assiniboine into Lake Manitoba, the lake could rise by a foot every six days. The river flow is expected to stay high on the Assiniboine until the end of August.

"We were just starting to rebound again and now this is happening," Zotter said. "It's just getting a little long in the tooth. Right now, we're set up to get to those 2011 levels or higher -- and it could get very ugly."

Zotter said a local state of emergency was declared Friday as sandbag operations, including deployment of large super-sandbags and geotubes, began to protect the most vulnerable areas, including those along 25 kilometres of Twin Lakes Beach, one of the hardest-hit areas of 2011.

The RM of Portage la Prairie has dozens of properties along the river, the Portage Diversion, and at Delta Beach on Lake Manitoba.

"That's a humongous concern for us," Reeve Kam Blight said of Delta, which was devastated along with Twin Lakes Beach to the east in 2011.

"(Lake Manitoba) does not need any more water," he added.

Blight said the RM needs immediate help from the military, especially on shoring up dikes along the Assiniboine east of Portage la Prairie.

"The dikes are quite large and the army can do some incredible work in an incredible amount of time," he said. "They really saved our butts in 2011. I'm very relieved they're coming in again here."

Blight said the difference between 2011 and the current situation is that the dikes are already waterlogged because of significant rainfall and high river levels.

"There's no frost in the dikes and there's more vegetation in the river, which changes the level of the flows," he said, explaining large areas of seeded agriculture land could also be submerged.

"It's not just homeowners we're concerned about," he said. "We're also concerned about peoples' livelihoods. A lot of people have planted their crops and there's a lot of investment that's going to be lost."

East of Portage to the RM of St. François Xavier and Headingley, fewer homes will need protection. However, that doesn't lessen the concern of those still at risk.

Robert Poirier, the CAO of St. François Xavier, said about 15 homes will need flood protection. About 12,000 acres of farmland will be flooded.

"People are worried. They can't leave the sump pumps unattended. They can't sleep properly," Poirer said.

Poirier and Headingley Mayor Wilf Taillieu said they do not believe their communities need the military's help.

"My biggest fear is that the dikes are saturated and slumped," Poirier said. "All it would take is a weak spot and they would be very hard-pressed to restore it, if it got away on them. That puts us into evacuation territory, which our fire department is prepping for."

Taillieu said about 10 to 15 properties may need flood protection in Headingley depending how much water flows down the Assiniboine.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2014 A5

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