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Water levels on Lake Wahtopanah are exceeding the previous record set in 2011 by more than four feet, says the Manitoba infrastructure minister, who is calling the flood near Rivers, "equivalent to a one-in-1,000-year" event.
Ron Schuler said the province has contracted with two consulting engineering firms to aid it in inspecting the integrity of the 60-year-old dam at Rivers, adjacent to the lake, some 40 kilometres northwest of Brandon.
He said the dam, which was inspected as recently as last month, was not built to deal with the amount of water Mother Nature has thrown at it over the past few days. Some areas recorded more than 200 millimetres of precipitation over three days.
"I don't think anybody could have conceivably anticipated this much water coming at us, and it came at us in an incredibly fast rate," Schuler said Thursday.
"We don't expect any further significant rain, but the spillway is releasing approximately 12,000 (cubic feet per second)," he said. That's more than double what it handled during the peak of the 2011 flood, he noted.
On Wednesday evening, as a precaution, the province urged residents downstream from the dam to evacuate and remove any livestock, after officials lost confidence the dam would hold.
As of 10 a.m. Thursday, 80 people along the Little Saskatchewan River in the Riverdale Municipality had been evacuated due to heavy rains.
The province recommended all use of Lake Wahtopanah be suspended immediately.
The huge rain event has caused overland flooding in areas across the Assiniboine River watershed. A flood warning has been issued for the Whitemud River in the Arden and Gladstone areas.
On Thursday morning, the province activated the Portage Diversion, which reroutes Assiniboine River water into Lake Manitoba. It will limit flows on the lower Assiniboine River east of Portage la Prairie to 10,000 cfs.
Fortunately, Schuler said, the lake level, at 811.5 feet, is currently in the middle of its desired range.
"Lake Manitoba will easily absorb all the water coming at it," he told reporters.
Meanwhile, Schuler said he's been assured flood fortifications at Brandon, downstream from the Rivers dam, are well in hand.
"They believe they've protected their town," he said, referring to officials from the province's second-largest city.
Schuler repeatedly urged Manitobans to stay away from the Rivers dam if at all possible, as engineers assess possible damage to the structure and the province works to maintain access to the area.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.
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