In a parallel universe where no money was ever spent on Winnipeg flood-protection measures, roughly a third of this city would be underwater as you read these words.
Without the construction of Winnipeg's primary dike system, the Red River Floodway and the diversion of the Assiniboine River west of Portage la Prairie, the Red River would have crested at about 32 feet above winter ice levels at the James Avenue monitoring station on Thursday afternoon -- more than nine feet above the actual flood-protection-mitigated crest of 22.55 feet James.
Based on maps of the 1950 Red River flood, which was slightly smaller than the deluge Winnipeg has experienced this spring, flood-protection measures built in stages over the past 59 years have prevented the Red from flooding all of Fort Garry and St. Vital this spring, along with most of St. Boniface and Fort Rouge and significant portions of downtown, the North End and all three of the Kildonans.
The city's primary dikes, which parallel portions of the Red, Assiniboine and Seine rivers, were built up six months after the 1950 flood. The 47-kilometre-long Red River Floodway, initially completed in 1969 for $63 million, was expanded this decade for $665 million. The 29-kilometre-long Portage Diversion was completed in 1970 for $20.5 million.
Without these three measures, the Red and Seine Rivers would have merged to become a lake as wide as seven kilometres in the south side of the city, while the Assiniboine River, Truro Creek in St. James and Bunn's Creek in North Kildonan also would have inundated thousands of homes.
Landmarks that would be underwater right now include the entire University of Manitoba campus, the Basilica in St. Boniface, and every corner of The Forks. The home of the Winnipeg Goldeyes would truly be a fishbowl, while homes in low-lying neighbourhoods such as Kingston Crescent and Wildwood Park would have been swamped up to their main-floor ceilings.
On Wednesday, Manitoba Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said flood-protection measures have already paid for themselves. The fact that much of Winnipeg remains dry is something of an engineering marvel, Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz added Thursday.
"The reality is this: The majority of the public are going to their daily jobs, doing their chores and are taking their kids back and forth to school," he said shortly after he declared a state of emergency for properties sitting below the primary dikes.
"Depending on where you live, you wouldn't even know there is a flood. You can thank the floodway for that," Katz said. "Unfortunately for some people, especially those along rivers and creeks, it's serious and it's scary."
- With files from Larry Kusch