Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 3/1/2011 (3950 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba Hydro's role in regulating the water level on Lake Winnipeg will be put under the microscope at public hearings this year when it applies for a permanent licence to keep the lake a reservoir for its northern power dams, Premier Greg Selinger says.
Hydro will officially ask the province for a permanent licence so it has a steady flow of water to generate electricity during the winter months and for export to other provinces and the United States.
Selinger said that part of that licensing process will include public hearings.
"I think that will provide an opportunity for anybody that has concerns to be able to put their comments in, and their research, and to be able to indicate what their concerns are with Lake Winnipeg regulation," Selinger said.
"There's a lot of anecdotal concerns out there and there needs to be an impartial forum for those to be heard and evaluated and to be understood."
The hearings, to be held likely in the fall, will be the first time in almost 40 years that Manitoba Hydro will directly confront a public skeptical that its artificial control of the lake does not contribute to shoreline destruction. Some also say Hydro's regulation of the lake's flow contributes to the growth of toxic blue-green algae.
The debate over Hydro's role on the lake has continued for several years and took centre stage in late October when a cyclone-like storm blew up huge waves in the south basin that in some spots destroyed an already fragile shoreline and caused flooding in some low-lying areas.
Critics charge that if Hydro were forced to lower the lake by two feet more -- 713 feet above sea level as opposed to 715 now -- the waves would not have been so big and the destruction not so widespread. Many municipalities declared states of emergency to deal with flooding. The province has already said it will put a disaster financial assistance program in place to help permanent residents and local governments repair the storm's damage. An early damage estimate is about $7 million.
Victoria Beach Coun. Kathy McKibbin said at a council meeting late last month that Hydro has a lot of explaining to do. Some Victoria Beach cottagers are now planning massive shoreline stabilization projects to save their cottages.
"If the whole south basin doesn't appear at these hearings, I'd be quite disappointed," McKibbin said.
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In the lead-up to the permanent licensing process, Hydro has taken a more active role in explaining its role on the lake on its website, Hydro spokesman Glenn Schneider said.
"There continues to be a lot of misconceptions on behalf of cottage owners," Schneider said. "We understand their concerns about damage to their property. There is a perception that we've been keeping the lake high, and we want to provide them with specifics and facts that tell our story in terms of how we've been operating and the fact that we haven't been the cause of the damage to their property."
Schneider said anyone with a concern about the lake's regulation can submit a question to Hydro.
"Once we've had an opportunity to talk to people, they quite frequently will go away with a different opinion," Schneider said. "We can answer either privately or put it on the web."
Hydro didn't begin to regulate the level of the lake until the late 1970s when the Jenpeg generating station was finished. Schneider said with Hydro's regulation of the lake, its level year-to-year has been more stable, and overland flooding, caused when the lake overflows, is now something of the past.
Lake Winnipeg used as reservoir
THE level of water in Lake Winnipeg is regulated by Manitoba Hydro to store water so Hydro has enough to power its downstream (Nelson River) generating stations in the winter when energy needs are at their peak.
Before Hydro began regulating the lake in the late 1970s, it built the Jenpeg control dam and excavated three channels to increase the lake's outflow capability to about 50 per cent above what it was before Jenpeg was built.
Hydro was granted an interim licence to regulate Lake Winnipeg for power production when the lake level (with the effects of wind eliminated) is between 711 and 715 feet above sea level. Above 715, Hydro must operate the Jenpeg control structure to discharge as much water as possible from the lake until it recedes to elevation 715. When the lake level falls below 711, Hydro is required to operate Jenpeg to decrease the flow to conserve water.
Since July 1, 2010, Hydro has operated Jenpeg at maximum outflow. Because of the high rainfall and snowfall experienced in the Lake Winnipeg watershed this year, the level of the lake is forecast to stay at 715 into the new year.
If spring flooding forecasts prove true, the lake's level will likely go back up again this summer.