Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Controlled flood likely to swamp farmland

Growers lament expected loss of prime crops

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Doug Connery fears his labour-intensive vegetable and berry farm on some of Manitoba's most valuable farmland will be a sacrificial lamb to save others from flooding.

"I'll be out of business," he said Monday night shortly after the province announced plans for a controlled flood expected to swamp some properties like his to save many more that would be lost in an uncontrolled one.

Maps

See the effects of a controlled breach and uncontrolled breach in PDF files provided by the provincial government.

Flood Fight

The producer in the RM of Portage is concerned about the plan to cut the Assiniboine River dike near vegetable farms -- where land is worth up to four times the price of land that produces grain.

"Asparagus, broccoli, all the green onion for the province and one-third of the carrots could be done in," he said.

There will be a major fallout for many families relying on the jobs connected with those crops, he said.

"I've got up to 140 Mexicans ready to work here. They should be cutting asparagus," he said. The cold and wet have delayed the harvest but the controlled flood could kill it, he said.

"Now they're probably flooding half of my land and I don't need these guys," said Connery.

"I already spent $40,000 to bring them up here," he said, asking if the province plans to reimburse him.

He was upset, too, that the controlled flood will be conducted Wednesday.

"I get a day of warning for 17 homes?" said Connery, incredulous at the lack of notice. "I'm one landowner -- how do I look after 17 homes? Who pays the price?"

He's the fourth generation of a farming family that's had to move several times -- from Birds Hill to St. Vital to the RM of Portage in 1962.

"This has never happened here to us before," Connery said. "(1996) was the closest we've had high water before," but nothing that ever affected their livelihood.

"Now we're getting hammered again."

Connery wasn't the only one taken aback by the province's plan to cut the Assiniboine River dike near Hoop & Holler Bend, close to Connery's Berries, to divert water into the Elm River.

"This is coming as a big surprise to us," said Reeve Kam Blight of the RM of Portage la Prairie. The province notified the municipality Monday afternoon, he said.

"We know the (Portage) diversion is there to alleviate some of the pressure," Blight said Monday night.

"They're now telling us a lot more water is coming our way than they expected," he said. The controlled flood will be a risk to about 150 homes to spare close to 500, the province said.

"It looks like a lot of it is being felt in our municipality," Blight said as the RM started letting its residents and ratepayers know.

"We're doing a phone blitz as we speak," said the reeve, who made some calls himself Monday night.

"There was shock," Blight said of residents' reaction. "They were quite surprised and not sure why some of the measures are being taken in our area."

But there's not much they can do, he said.

"The province declared a state of emergency and that trumps everything."

Blight said they're notifying more than the 150 homeowners the province said the controlled flood might affect.

"We're taking it to the farthest reaches," he said at the municipal office Monday night.

"We're in the middle of an emergency meeting and trying to plan our next few days."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 10, 2011 A5

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