PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — With the crest of the Assiniboine River likely to hit the Portage Diversion late this afternoon, dikes built to withstand the rising water are holding, Premier Greg Selinger said.
"Today looks like the day we hit the max," he told reporters at Spillway Park near the Portage Diversion control structure. "The dikes are pretty solid."
Manitoba flood forecasters originally said river levels would peak around noon near the diversion and then continue toward Winnipeg. Now, it appears the crest is coming around the supper hour.
Selinger said it’s time to look at the bigger picture of flood management and a Manitoba-Saskatchewan partnership.
"I did have a conversation yesterday with Premier (Brad) Wall and we both agreed that we need that disaster mitigation program, that 50-50 program the federal government announced. We need to get that moving," Selinger said, with water surging behind him in the spillway.
"I think we have to start doing this bigger approach. We have a study going on in Manitoba as we speak looking at the entire system and how we can best use our resources to manage water. We’ve talked about an outlet coming out of the north end of Lake Manitoba. We’ve talked about making the emergency channel to Lake St. Martin permanent. We have to talk about how we can make the dikes stronger so the whole diversion is properly managed. The whole picture has to be looked at on how we manage water, not only in Manitoba, but across the prairies."
Professional engineering advice will be part of the process, he noted.
"The dikes are in much better shape this time than last time (2011). They’re drier, they’re higher, but again there could be risks so you can’t take anything for granted," Selinger said.
The premier said it is not too early to talk about compensation for people affected by the flood.
"We have our programs. We have excess-moisture insurance, which we’ve improved this year, we have crop insurance in partnership with the federal government," he said.
"We’re interested in an ag-recovery program to look at how people can recover as rapidly as possible from this and we have our major infrastructure program. One of the key priorities of our infrastructure program is to strengthen flood protection around Manitoba."
The government is looking at ways to use the experiences people are having right now to build additional protection for future events, he said.
RM of Portage la Prairie Reeve Kam Blight said the timing of using the "fail safe," an intentional cut in banks of the Portage Diversion, is different this year that in previous flood situations because many crops are already planted on acres of fields being swallowed as water flows north to Lake Manitoba.
"This is part of the design of the Portage Diversion, and unfortunately, it’s something we’re going to have to have more conversations with the farmers (about). I’m a farmer myself and I hate to see any damage like this happen," Blight said.
"But when you look at the magnitude of the event that’s coming and the amount of water that’s coming, I think they can all understand and appreciate why the fail safe is there and this had to be happening. "