A First Nation says a report calls into question the design of a $540-million anti-flood project in the Interlake.
"The provincial government is hell-bent on pushing this project through (despite) all the concerns we’ve raised to date," said Little Saskatchewan First Nation Coun. Dwayne Blackbird.
The engineering report, which was shared with the Free Press, suggests Manitoba miscalculated the effect of two outlets that are supposed to prevent catastrophic flooding in the region. The first outlet would connect Lake Manitoba to the southern part of Lake. St. Martin. The second outlet, at the northern part of Lake St. Martin, would connect it to Lake Winnipeg.
The modelling, completed last week, suggests when the two new channels become operational, the south basin of Lake St. Martin would overflow because the lake becomes very narrow before it opens into the northern basin.
"Model simulations contradict the assumption that Lake St. Martin can be treated as a single basin, and suggests that models of the lake used for flood prediction purposes must consider the role of the narrows," reads the Feb. 6 report by environmental consultant Ian Halket.
"This finding casts doubt on the level of protection offered by the outlet channels for a 2011 flood event reported in (Manitoba’s regulatory filings.)"
Manitoba Infrastructure responded on Wednesday by saying it had revised the plan to accommodate the concerns.
"During the initial conceptual design process, the hydraulic model to evaluate water levels and flows in Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin made the assumption that Lake St. Martin acted as a single basin. As planning and design progressed, Lake St. Martin was modelled as two basins, the north and south basins," a spokeswoman wrote.
That came as a surprise to the band.
Band councillors say changes to water flow could affect ancestral graves and spawning grounds that fishers depend on.
"I’m very concerned about our way of life," said Coun. Albert Shorting.
Councillors were also critical of the province taking more than a year to approve funding for consultations. It did so last summer, just as the pandemic made it nearly impossible for meetings to take place.
The province said it has put up more money and will extend the consultation process to account for the pandemic.
"Manitoba will continue to work with Little Saskatchewan First Nation on the implementation of the jointly developed work plan for the Project," a spokeswoman wrote.
Premier Brian Pallister has bemoaned Ottawa’s repeated stalling to approve the project. He maintains it's because the consultation process has been expanded to include communities that are far too downstream of the project.
In 2011, residents of reserves in the area were forced to move to Winnipeg because of extensive flooding that destroyed their homes. Ten years later, not all residents have returned because of disputes over whether children who grew into adults in the city are owed houses back on the reserve.