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Crying wolf

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The Portage Reservoir with diversion flowing into Lake Manitoba

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The Portage Reservoir with diversion flowing into Lake Manitoba

Not that long ago I had conversation with a gentleman who lives on Lake Manitoba. 

I met him during the height of the 2011 flood along with a lot of other folks who lost their homes and cottages to the flooded lake's pounding waves. We've stayed in contact since.

He said something that's stuck with me over the course of the past month when flooding on the Assiniboine River got more serious. His fear was history might repeat itself.

"We've got to be careful how we approach this," he said, explaining the adverse impact on Lake Manitoba by the use of the Portage Diversion. "We can't be seen to be crying wolf."

Well, with all respect, folks in and around Lake Manitoba are "crying wolf" and with each passing day they become less credible. Judging by the some of the comments I've read and heard, I would even go so far to say some are also being racist in their hyperbolic fervor that the province drain their lake at the expense of First Nations people living downstream at Fairford and Lake St. Martin. They conveniently forget the people who were displaced and the communities that have become ghost towns in the aftermath of 2011.

They all blame Premier Greg Selinger and his government for their woes this summer. They essentially say the government shouldn't be using the Portage Diversion this year, like it did in 2011, and flood their lake again.

They blame the NDP for being too slow to act in building a bigger drain for Lake Manitoba. They say the NDP had a whole three years. Where's the drain? Why are you sacrificing us again? Why don't you care?

They would blame Selinger for the rain, too, if they could, but that would be stretching things too far.

Lake Winnipeg is flooding, too, in part because of the high, rain-fed water flowing into it from The Lake of the Woods on the Winnipeg River.

Certainly, those farmers who've been flooded artificially because of the Portage Diversion must be fairly compensated and quickly.

On Tuesday, the diversion was sending 31,450 cubic feet per second of water into Lake Manitoba. That amount is to rise to 35,000 cfs in the next two to three days and then is to drop significantly.

In comparing spring 2011 and this summer, the province says the diversion funneled more water into the lake over a longer period of time in 2011, almost three months in which the diversion's inflow was about 30,000 cfs. This summer, it will be less than a month's duration. Translation? It's not 2011 again. Not even close.

It also bears repeating that anyone who rebuilt on Lake Manitoba after the 2011 flood had to build at an elevation of 822 feet above sea level so they would be protected in the event of future flooding. Lake Manitoba reached its highest level during the 2011 flood when it peaked at 817.1 ft. asl.

Some complained only two years ago that 822 feet was too high and that the government was being unreasonable.

Then there's the convenient re-writing or forgetting of history-that the NDP somehow is responsible for the creation of all the flood protection works that go from the Shellmouth Dam near Russell to the Red River Floodway gates just outside Winnipeg.

All these flood protection works are actually the result of the 1950 flood, and were first recommended under the Liberal government of Douglas Campbell in the mid-50s and built by Conservative Premier Duff Roblin after he became premier in 1958.

In 1958, Selinger was seven years old.

What he's stuck with today day is the legacy of those decisions. What's he's stuck with is trying to figure how to reasonably use all these flood control works at time when we're experiencing more frequent flood events on the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. And way, way more rain.

The recommendation to build a new outlet for Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin only became public April 8, 2013 after the independent Lake Manitoba-Lake St. Martin Regulation Review Committee submitted its report. The committee was appointed by the government one year earlier.

In its report, the committee said it recognized that control of Lake St. Martin levels must be attained before additional capacity is added to the outlet of Lake Manitoba.

"The Committee recognizes that any new works affecting Lake St. Martin will require substantive discussion with the First Nations bordering Lake St. Martin and the Dauphin River," it said in its report.

That consultation process is in its infancy and the wider public consultation process is to start this fall. Things were to have started last month, but were postponed until the summer flood threat passed.

The province has already said it's examining six options to improve the outlet for Lake Manitoba, and is doing so weighing the type of work involved, like how much rock should be blasted through to the area's topography and the total cost of the project.

It's also planning how it can drain Lake St. Martin without impacting the residents downstream of any new channel and their livelihoods.

For anyone to suggest Selinger and his NDP could have by now already dug the two new channels defies common sense.

Worse, it undermines your credibility to the point few listen.

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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