Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Floods create two worlds

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WILLOW BAY -- I live these days in two different worlds. One is the world of peace, which I find when I retreat to Winnipeg for respite from the second world, the world of war against an implacable enemy, rising flood waters on Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin.

I long for the world of peace, but it is the world of war in which I spend most of my time. It's been like this since April and there is still no relief in sight. Out here we can do nothing but battle on.

In Winnipeg, the world of peace, there is no struggle against the rising waters. People are enjoying their summer, doing summer stuff, going about their daily lives. I see people spending time in Assiniboine Park -- right next to the Assiniboine River. They see the river is still within its banks without knowing the water that would have come their way has been diverted to the lake that is threatening our homes, farms and livelihoods.

There is a summer calm on the tree-shaded streets of Winnipeg. People are taking in the summer evening air in sidewalk cafés on Corydon. They walk their dogs, jog and ride their bikes, oblivious to the flood battles raging less than an hour beyond the Perimeter Highway.

Out here, beyond the Perimeter, along the shores of the affected lakes, there are sandbags on the waterfront and earthworks extend onto higher ground on the flanks.

The work at the waterfront is ongoing, endlessly shoring up sandbag barricades with each increase in the peak-flood-level announcement.

The sweaty, back-breaking work is going on where there used to be flower gardens and well-kept lawns.

Heavy equipment roars day and night in green hayfields that should be dotted with bales. Track hoes are tearing up gardens and backyards to build more earthen dikes.

Crews of flood-fighters, supported by retired folks who should be playing with their grandkids or enjoying their retirement, are on the front line of this struggle.

Going to work regularly at a job that paid the bills, or enjoying a hard-earned retirement, are things we did before the flood. Now we are at war against the water that was sent to us.

In the Rural Municipality of Grahamdale, because of a small and aging population, young men from Peguis First Nation form the core of our flood-fighting brigade.

This brigade of sandbaggers is supported by local volunteers who prepare lunches and meals. It is an effort everyone can be proud of.

This same struggle has been repeated day after day after day on farms, lakeside communities and First Nations for more than three months. It will continue until the water goes down and, day after day, we will wonder if our dams will hold or if the pumps will fail.

The stress of living under the flood siege is wearing down the strongest spirits.

Flood waters diverted into the Lake Manitoba drainage basin will continue to besiege us for many more months, if not years.

This is water sent to us by legislative decree and not by an act of nature. We can quibble about how much was diverted but what can't be disputed is that without the Assiniboine River diversion water, Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin would not be at the levels they are now.

As a result, we have been forced into a historic battle to save our homes, livelihoods and the very communities that support us. We'll fight the good fight because we have no choice. But when this is done, there must be a reckoning of accounts -- and on so many levels.

Many of the people forced into this fight feel anger. We know who made the decision to send us the flood waters and why. We know it was necessary. But we also know this deliberate act and its consequences have not been acknowledged in any real way. We know we took the bullet to save Winnipeg.

The heroes on the flood front need to know the people whose homes they saved from harm are aware of who is fighting the battle on their behalf.

We are under siege by the flood and there is no relief in sight. The only thing that offers strength to tired arms and worn-out emotions are the hollow rumours.

All around Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin, fighting the flood is all people talk and think about. It is their work. It is what they have been waking up to every day since April.

The only real hope is that the water will go down before the ice breaks up this spring. If the water stays high, the ice sheets will undo all the work done when they crash into the shores during the breakup. That is the nightmare scenario no one wants to talk about because it would take away the strength we need to continue this battle.

We know these things and accept them because we have no choice. But we need the true cause of our flooding acknowledged. We need firm assurances that when this is over, the few who gave so much and suffered the loss will be made whole again, and that long-term solutions to this problem will be implemented without delay.

We deserve this for the price we have already paid.


Peter Schroedter is an Interlake tire recycler and retired rancher. He lives at Willow Bay, a community of about 65 seasonal and all-season homes on the shore of Lake Manitoba, about 15 kilometres west of Moosehorn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 16, 2011 J1

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