One Manitoba farm couple has been hit by a double whammy of spring flooding, with fields too wet to plant and a cabin sitting in more than a half-metre of water.
It’s been a stressful ordeal for Île des Chênes grain farmers Lisa and Adam Downton, who are focused on trying to salvage a seeding season delayed by high water levels and frequent rain.
"We’re farmers trying to be farmers, but not even one field is seeded because the ground is so wet," Lisa Downton said Thursday. "We’re kind of getting to the point where we’re not sure what’s going to happen because of Mother Nature."
The Downtons were looking for a quiet retreat for themselves and their five children when they purchased a cabin on Black Sturgeon Lake, north of Kenora, Ont., last year.
"We were just hoping for our own little piece of paradise," said Downton. "You work so hard and save up, and it’s all taken from you so quickly."
The cabin property was inundated amid severe flooding throughout the Winnipeg River watershed in Manitoba, Ontario and Minnesota.
The Downtons haven’t been able to get close to it because roads and a boat launch are submerged.
Using a kayak, a fellow property owner paddled up to the cabin and sent photos to Downton. "I just cried when I saw them. It was so devastating," she said.
An attached deck, sun room and some siding have been "ripped off."
"It’s really upsetting and it’s a really horrible situation, but there are people who’ve got worse things going on right now," said Downton. "I feel horrible for people whose permanent residences have been destroyed and for people who’ve been evacuated from their homes."
Downton assumes the couple will be out more than $300,000 due to the disaster. Insurance won’t cover any of the losses, she said.
She is hoping Ontario’s government will extended some kind of financial aid to cottage owners.
Manitoba announced a disaster financial assistance program for flood victims May 9.
The government has received 262 claims from private residences, farms, small businesses and non-profit organizations, as of Thursday, a spokesman said.
Applications from 55 municipalities amount to about $15.5 million in damage.
The estimate will increase once the province and more municipalities complete assessments of roads and other infrastructure requiring repairs.
It’s still too soon to do that in Whiteshell Provincial Park, where water is rising and the flood fight continues for lodge owners while a potential rainstorm looms.
Levels at Nutimik, Dorothy, Margaret, Eleanor and Sylvia lakes are expected to increase by about a half-metre in the next week.
Nutimik Lodge co-owner Allison Baker-Thiessen was grateful after the province sent about 50 members of the Manitoba Wildfire Program to help build dikes and set up water pumps Wednesday and Thursday.
"We are starting to look really good. We just have to keep maintaining," said Baker-Thiessen. "It’s been a huge relief now, knowing we have a stronger fight."
A mandatory evacuation order was issued for northern areas of the Whiteshell, but some people have been given permission to remain.
Baker-Thiessen said the province is allowing a group of volunteers to stay and help her and her husband, Harry Thiessen, protect their permanent home and business.
Daily wellness checks are being carried out on those who’ve stayed behind, a spokesman for the province said. He said they require a safety plan and are responsible for their own well-being and security.
People who do not have permission to be in the evacuation zone could be in violation of the Provincial Parks Act and/or Manitoba’s Emergency Measures Act.
The RCMP is assisting the province on matters such as security, said spokeswoman Cpl. Julie Courchaine.
Flood forecasters are monitoring a weather system which could dump 15 to 30 millimetres of rain across southern and central Manitoba over the next week. Some areas could receive up to 80 mm, the province said.
While the flood fight carries on in eastern Manitoba, communities in the Interlake and Red River Valley are shifting to recovery mode.
A month-long local state of emergency in the Municipality of Ritchot, just south of Winnipeg, ended Thursday.
Evacuees are returning home, with about 50 households still displaced, said Mayor Chris Ewen.
Water levels in the Red River Basin are declining, but there is still a lot of overland flooding and the river is expected to remain high well into June.
"Now, it’s just really damage assessment and starting to look at repairs," said Ewen.
It’s too soon to tally the final cost, but Ritchot suffered "well over" $1 million in flood damage, he said.
Highway 75 remains closed on the north and south sides of the town of Morris, causing frustration for residents, farmers and truckers, who are forced to use long detours
Morris-area farmer Lorne Hamblin questioned why the south side is still shut, saying the water level is below the highway.
"It could have been open quite easily," said Hamblin, who is calling on the province to complete work to raise vulnerable sections south of Morris.
A provincial spokesman said the highway will reopen once it is considered safe to do so. Some portions could reopen this week, according to the latest flood report.
The spokesman said the last remaining segment of the Highway 75 flood protection project is expected to be completed this fall.
Spring flooding has been widespread after a series of Colorado lows dumped large amounts of snow and rain.
Jay Doering, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Manitoba, said the situation should encourage climate change and hydrological specialists to do further modelling to identify the new normal.
It should also prompt a fresh look at areas where buildings are vulnerable to flooding, he said.
"We probably need to pay more attention to where we’re building. We may need to do a little more due diligence as to understanding what is floodplain."
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.