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Flooding fears begin to fall

Dikes between Winnipeg, Portage hold as eyes turn toward lakes

Premier Greg Selinger and RM of Portage la Prairie Reeve Kam Blight tour the control structure.

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Premier Greg Selinger and RM of Portage la Prairie Reeve Kam Blight tour the control structure.

The Portage Diversion channel is at maximum capacity Wednesday.

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The Portage Diversion channel is at maximum capacity Wednesday. (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS )

Though the official announcements said the worst of the flooding in Manitoba was over, people on the ground remained wary late Wednesday.

Jodie Gale, who has helped co-ordinate volunteers protecting homes in the RM of St. François Xavier, said she's expecting the water near her to rise into the night and crest this morning.

Gale said the last few days -- and nights -- have been hectic as volunteers sandbagged houses and tried to protect everybody who was threatened by the rising waters.

"My days and nights are getting all rattled together. It's been a few (sleepless nights)," Gale said.

In the RM of Portage la Prairie, Reeve Kam Blight said optimism was starting to set in, as water levels are not expected to go higher than what the dikes can handle.

"We're feeling pretty confident... but I know we're still at the early stages, so we're not going to get too comfortable," Blight said.

The RM of Portage la Prairie will be monitoring the ground 24 hours a day, aided by military air monitoring. Blight said he's not sure when things will start to settle down, even as the crest passes.

"We'll be running high flows down the Assiniboine River for quite some time, so that will be of some concern for us," he said.

With dikes between Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg holding, and only sunny skies in the forecast for most of the next week, the province said it's now unlikely it will make a controlled release at the Hoop and Holler bend southeast of Portage to ease pressure on the dikes.

The crest of the floodwater was expected to hit the Portage Reservoir between 6 p.m. Wednesday and midnight.

Doug McNeil, deputy minister of infrastructure and transportation, said the province would only consider a deliberate breach at Hoop and Holler if more than 52,000 cubic feet per second of water flowed in the reservoir. "We're not forecasting that," he said.

The provincial forecast said late Wednesday the reading at the Portage Reservoir was 51,900 cfs.

"Today looks like the day we hit the max," Premier Greg Selinger told reporters at Spillway Park Wednesday near the Portage Diversion control structure. "The dikes are in much better shape this time than last time (2011). They're drier, they're higher, but again there could be risks, so you can't take anything for granted."

Lakes Winnipeg and Manitoba are now the focus of the flood fight, as they are both above their preferred operating ranges with more water on the way. The fear is with water so high, even a moderate wind can raise water levels by more than a foot and send waves crashing into already fragile shorelines.

The RM of Woodlands began installing a system of super-sandbags, wrapped in geo-textile cloth, to protect vulnerable properties along the shoreline at Twin Lakes Beach on Lake Manitoba. The RM says the method has been used in the past and has stood up to heavy waves. During the 2011 flood, winds on Lake Manitoba sent waves crashing into a number of lakeside properties and flooded out others. Those who returned had to build to a level of 822 feet above sea level, five feet above the flood level of the lake three years ago. The most recent reading of the lake showed its level at 814.32 feet.

Lake Winnipeg is not only being fed by the high-running Red and Assiniboine rivers, but also by the Winnipeg River, which is experiencing historic water levels due to high rainfall over eastern Manitoba and northwestern Ontario in May and June. Lake Winnipeg sat at 716.84 feet above sea level at Victoria Beach Wednesday, almost one foot above the upper limit of its preferred operating range.

Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said the focus on the Assiniboine will now turn to a second crest fed by high rainfall over western Manitoba and parts of Saskatchewan during the Canada Day weekend.

The province says water levels between the Shellmouth Reservoir on the upper Assiniboine and St. Lazare to the south, where the Qu' Appelle River joins the Assiniboine, will be higher than during the 2011 flood.

The province is to release a revised forecast to reflect what the higher amounts mean for Brandon and the Assiniboine River Valley over the next two weeks.

 

-- with files from Oliver Sachgau

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 7:07 AM CDT:
Corrects typo

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