Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Swollen Lake Manitoba forces evacuation of cattle

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VOGAR ---- People who live around Lake Manitoba should prepare for their flood of the century -- lake levels even greater than flooding in 1955 -- due to water diverted from the Assiniboine River.

Provincial officials told ranchers here to prepare to evacuate 100,000 cattle in one or two weeks as Lake Manitoba expands.

"You have to go now and start searching today" for a temporary home for your cows, said Manitoba Agriculture's Ray Bittner. Many of those cattle will have to be transported to government-owned public pastures in Alberta and Saskatchewan because there is no room in Manitoba.

Houses will have to be diked and Highway 68, which passes through Lake Manitoba Narrows, is expected to be flooded unless it can be built up.

Cottages near St. Laurent and the Twin Beaches will be "a couple miles out to sea" -- meaning they will need to be diked and will sit three or so kilometres from dry land, said Bittner.

The flood forecast affects everyone along or near Lake Manitoba north to south, up both east and west sides. "In my lifetime, we've never seen anything like this. It's going to be serious," said Bittner.

The 80 producers who attended the meeting at the Siglunes Community Hall near Vogar, nearly 200 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, seemed stunned at first as they digested the news. While the flood figures had been rumoured, it was something else to hear them come from the mouths of government officials. People had been told all winter water levels would crest at 814.2 feet above sea level. Monday they were told the lake should hit 815.6 feet with "considerable chance it will get higher," said Bittner.

Monday's level was about 814.5 feet.

Eventually, anger boiled over among some people in the audience. The Portage Diversion is channelling about 25,000 cubic feet per second of Assiniboine River water into Lake Manitoba, while the lake's sole outlet, the Fairford River Dam, is releasing 13,500 cfs, operating over its capacity of 10,000 cfs.

"The government is screwing us around. We need to stand up and say we're not taking this anymore," said Donna Steinthorson, a former nurse in the area.

But rancher Joel Delaurier said flooding people's land instead of homes in the city is to be expected.

"I understand what they're doing, saving the masses. What can you do about it? Winnipeg eats our beef," he said. Delaurier will have to move 600 head of cattle at a cost of $17,000.

Farmers here are also pleading to any grain farmers who rent Crown land to lend them that land for their cattle. But many cattle will still be moved to other provinces.

"I told (wife) Jackie, we're going to go for a holiday and visit our cattle in Alberta this summer," said Art Jonasson.

It will be a race against the clock for the farmers. "We're getting to the point we won't have roads to get our cattle out," said Jonasson.

Government is expected to provide financial assistance but uncertainties concern producers.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

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

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