Balancing the needs of property owners along the Assiniboine River with those of cottage owners on the eastern shore of Lake Manitoba is proving to be tough for the provincial government.
"We’ve tried to balance the interests," said Steve Topping, executive director of the provincial Hydrologic Forecasting and Water Management and Structures Division.
The Portage Diversion is being used to reduce high water levels in the lower Assiniboine River, which passes through the RMs of Cartier, St. Francois Xavier and Headingley before it flows into the City of Winnipeg. But the extra water is causing Lake Manitoba to rise, thereby threatening
cottages adjacent to the lake.
The rate of water flow along the lower Assiniboine was about 12,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) from approximately May 23 to 25, when more water was diverted into Lake Manitoba thereby reducing the rate to 11,000 cfs. On the morning of May 27, Topping said the goal was to maintain the flow at 10,500 cfs and reduce the flooding risk for farmers and homeowners with property next to the Assiniboine River.
"We hope that this will be adequate to allow for proper drainage," he said.
John and Monica Griffiths, who raise cattle on their family farm close to Poplar Point, noticed water in their basement the week of May 18. Their farm is located next to the Assiniboine River, and they experienced severe flood damage in 2011.
"We’ve had high water for two years now," said Monica.
As well as having water in their basement, the Griffiths saw puddles forming in their fields as water from the river was seeping through the ground under the dike, saturating their soil. She said that their neighbours’ land is also affected.
She regularly monitors the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transportation’s online resource showing river flow and how much water is being put through the Portage Diversion. Allowing the downstream flow to climb to 12,000 cfs means problems for them.
"Maybe we should have been notified," she said.
Topping said he’s aware of the trouble and financial loss that high river levels cause for farmers and market gardeners with property downstream of the Portage Diversion, especially during the start of the short growing season.
RM of St. Francois Xavier CAO Robert Poirier said the municipality is keeping a close eye on river levels as some localized flooding has occurred.
"It (the rate of water flow) was up to 12,000 (cfs), now it’s down to 11,000," he said, on the morning of May 27. "At 12,000, we’re swamping out farmland."
The Welcomestop campground situated next to the Assiniboine River in St. Francois Xavier was forced to close half of its site when flooding began in the evening of May 23, said owner Has Koria.
"The river is going down now, and we’re going to pump out the water back into the river," he said on May 27.
Like Griffiths, he would have liked to be notified of the rise in the river level as he said it takes about 24 hours for the higher water to travel from the Portage Diversion downstream to St. Francois Xavier.
Gary Friesen farms in the western part of the municipality next to the river and Long Lake Dam. In 2011, all of his 2,000 acres were underwater. Beginning on May 23, culverts that help to control the water flow along the dam failed, and now 80 acres of his land are flooded — 20 of which he had recently seeded.
"It’s frustrating to have this reoccurring problem," he said.
A staff member at the RM of Headingley office said, while the river level was high, there were no reports of flooding or water in basements.