Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Water, anger on the rise in Westman

  • Print

BRANDON -- As the Assiniboine River continues to rise in western Manitoba, so too does the anger and anxiety of many Westman residents.

Accusations and counter-accusations over who is to blame for this summer's flooding are slowly giving way to growing apprehension over the possibility the "high-water event" of 2011 may be repeated in the spring of 2013.

At the heart of the controversy lies the Shellmouth Dam and reservoir.

Located about 25 kilometres northwest of Russell, it was constructed for the dual purpose of protecting downstream communities from periodic high-water flows on the Assiniboine, and supplementing low-water flows on the river during dry conditions, ensuring a reliable water supply for Brandon, Portage, industrial users and farms that rely on irrigation.

The reservoir created by the dam, known as the Lake of the Prairies, is approximately 55 kilometres long and capable of holding 500 million cubic metres of water. When reservoir levels exceed that capacity, excess water spills over a concrete spillway into the river channel.

That is exactly what is happening these days, as higher-than-normal rainfall upstream of the Shellmouth has filled the reservoir beyond capacity. Excess water is flowing down the spillway, and has flooded more than 50,000 acres of farmland downstream. The Assiniboine has also spilled over its banks in Brandon, flooding adjacent land within the city.

As the floodwater spreads, many of those affected are blaming the province for mismanaging the flow of water from the Shellmouth. They accuse the province of making a huge gaffe in March, when it decided to retain water in the reservoir because of concerns over an impending drought and a desire to ensure there would be enough water for downstream communities that rely upon the Assiniboine for their drinking water.

The fear of drought was widely held throughout Westman in March.

Withholding water in the Shellmouth reservoir was a reasonable decision, given the circumstances as they existed at the time. Having made the wrong decision in March, however, the province now has an even tougher decision to make -- drain the reservoir now, or keep the gates closed?

The Assiniboine is already at flood stage and the reservoir is still overflowing -- exactly the same conditions as the summer of 2010. The City of Brandon is calling for an immediate increase in flow from the dam in order to reduce the volume of water in the reservoir, but such a move is being resisted by downstream farmers who are already flooded and fear even more water will wipe them out.

The stakes are high and the consequences that could flow from making the wrong choice could be severe. If the amount of water in the reservoir cannot be reduced significantly before winter sets in, western Manitoba will be left with no effective means of controlling the flow of floodwater in the spring of 2013. Depending on the volume of rainfall this fall and the snowfall this winter in western Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan, Manitobans could be forced to endure a repeat of the spring of 2011 -- with another $1-billion price tag for taxpayers.

The situation underscores the high level of risk associated with relying on a single water-control structure with a contradictory mission statement and insufficient capacity to protect the province from the Assiniboine's floodwater.

It emphasizes the need for additional measures to be taken to enhance our ability to control the Assiniboine's flow, including more reservoirs and reclaimed wetlands. It points to the necessity of better understanding changes to upstream drainage and controlling the development and use of land along the Assiniboine's flood plain.

If we learned anything from the 2011 flood, it is that the time to take these steps is now, before yet another significant flood occurs.

With the Shellmouth reservoir full to capacity and excess water rushing down the spillway, we may have less time than we thought.


Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.

View Larger Map

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 26, 2012 A10

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Total Body Tune-Up: Farmer's Carry

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-(Standup photo)- Humming Around- A female ruby -throated hummingbird fly's through the bee bomb  flowers Friday at the Assiniboine Park English Garden- Nectar from flowers are their main source of food. Hummingbirds wings can beat as fast as 75x times second. Better get a glimpse of them soon the birds fly far south for the winter - from Mexico to South America- JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- Sept 10, 2009
  • A Canada goose makes takes flight on Wilkes Ave Friday afternoon- See Bryksa’s 30 Day goose a day challenge- Day 09- May 11, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google