Questions on how the province operates the Red River Floodway dogged Premier Gary Doer's government Thursday as hundreds of people spent the day shoring up sandbag dikes in Winnipeg.
Tory leader Hugh McFadyen said the province should have the ability to raise the floodway's gates even more to divert additional flood water into the newly expanded channel -- expanded to handle twice the amount of water it diverted during the 1997 Flood of the Century. McFadyen said by doing that it would lessen the potential of flooding in the city and reduce anxiety.
"I think it's important for Winnipeggers in particular to understand exactly how the floodway operation is going to impact on the City of Winnipeg in terms of water levels," McFadyen said during question period in the legislature.
"We know we now have a state of emergency and many are asking about the level of protection for citizens within the City of Winnipeg provided by the floodway."
Doer said use of the floodway to protect Winnipeg cannot come at the expense of residents and communities south of the city.
Doer said activating the floodway backs up Red River flood water south of the control gates and could cause needless flooding in communities that are diked.
"We are attempting to operate the floodway in harmony with communities south of the floodway," Doer said. "We operate the floodway to protect Winnipeg and at same time not evacuate people south of the floodway by the operation of the floodway."
McFadyen said with the capacity of the floodway recently being increased -- the expansion came in under its original $665-million budget -- it should be able to handle more water without communities south of the control gates being threatened.
Doer said the floodway's increased capacity was designed to be used in a catastrophic flood above what Manitoba saw in 1997. A flood of that magnitude would see much of the Red River Valley south of Winnipeg evacuated.
"If a catastrophic flood was here there would be massive evacuations, but the floodway would be able to protect up to 400,000 people in Winnipeg who would not have to be evacuated." Doer said.
McFadyen spent Thursday morning north of the city surveying the flood damage at Breezy Point. Homes and summer residences along the Red River between Selkirk and Lake Winnipeg were flooded out on the weekend when an ice jam backed up water and huge chunks of ice over the banks.
Much of the area is still under water and residents are still restricted from returning.
Officials have said this year's ice jams were unpredicted, as was the amount of runoff feeding into the Red River basin.
McFadyen said once the flood threat has diminished the province must look at ways to address these issues, including a new program of dredging the Red Red north of Selkirk so when ice breaks up it moves more freely into Netley Marsh at the mouth of Lake Winnipeg.
"This may very well not be a one-off event," McFadyen said. "We have to look at what's the cost if we don't do anything."