Wind whips up water — and anger

Flooded residents blame Hydro for high lake levels


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When the wind whips up and the waves crash in, many standing hip-deep near Lake Winnipeg's crumbling shore blame Manitoba Hydro.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/10/2010 (4304 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When the wind whips up and the waves crash in, many standing hip-deep near Lake Winnipeg’s crumbling shore blame Manitoba Hydro.

The Crown corporation has regulated the water level on Lake Winnipeg since 1976, so there’s enough water in the system to use in its hydroelectric dams on the Nelson River.

But with Wednesday’s extraordinary storm causing widespread damage throughout the lake’s south basin, many say the province should order Manitoba Hydro to keep the lake at least two feet lower than it does now.

WAYNE.GLOWACKI @FREEPRESS.MB.CA Vehicles drive through water from Lake Winnipeg covering a road in Pelican Beach on Thursday.

“When there’s any north wind, it just keeps pounding and pounding,” Manigotagan campground owner Dietrich Hapel said Friday.

Hapel said the shoreline around his campground was chewed up by the waves, ripping out trees and pulling out turf by the ton. Other areas on the lake saw overnight evacuations because of flooding and prolonged power outages.

“Imagine if it was two feet lower to start with. Would we have this damage?” Hapel said.

Up and down the south basin of the lake, the refrain is the same: Blame Hydro.

“Manitoba Hydro makes a lot of money from the lake — they can bring it down,” Pelican Beach resident Ken Hildebrand said.

Fall on the lake has always seen big storms, but nothing like Wednesday when the barometric pressure dropped like a rock. That allowed winds from the north to brew up a perfect prairie cyclone of winds gusting up to more the 90 kilometres per hour.

The strong winds shoved water from the north basin into the south basin. That meant the water level in the north basin went down almost as much as the level in the south basin went up, between three and five feet. The water level in the south basin is still higher than normal, but it’s slowly going down as it retreats back north.

Hydro spokesman Glenn Schneider and others said there was nothing the utility could do to lessen the damage as it can’t harness the wind and lowering the lake more than it does now is impossible.

“It becomes difficult to talk about without drawing out emotions in people because they’re seeing damage to their personal property and they see somebody else with, in their minds, the potential to eliminate that damage and they’re upset that we don’t act,” he said.

Schneider said because so much water has flowed into the lake this summer courtesy of heavy rains, Hydro has, since July 1, funnelled out as much water as possible at its northern Jenpeg control structure. That decision has allowed Hydro to keep the lake below the 715 feet above sea level maximum set by the province in the early 1970s. To regulate the lake to account for wind storms, say keeping it at 713 feet above sea level, would make it almost useless for reliable hydroelectric production, Schneider added.

Water Stewardship Minister Christine Melnick said before Hydro started to regulate the lake, fluctuations were much more severe. In 1966 and 1974, the lake level was about 718 feet above sea level, and in both years there was widespread flooding.

With Hydro regulating the lake, damage to shoreline is actually less as Hydro has the capability to drain excess water faster than Mother Nature, she said. What Manitobans need to understand is that climate change has thrown a wrench into things.

Besides Wednesday’s storm and all the summer rain, the lake has also seen the 2006 tornado that blew into nearby Gull Lake and killed one person. Days later, Lester Beach was hit by a flash flood caused by intense rain.

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