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Flooding, ice jams, but it could be worse

The Portage Diversion is operating, there are ice jams on the Assiniboine River, parts of Highway 5 are underwater and The Pas could suffer flooding.

But, overall, we're doing pretty well this year and should be thankful for a colder April.

Though you may be cursing the cold, the province's flood forecasters say the best-case scenario is to slowly welcome the warmth of spring.

"Warmer weather during the day and cooler, below freezing at night slows the runoff, and that's generally a good sign in how to dissipate the snowpack and reduce runoff," Steve Topping, executive director of hydrologic forecasting and water management for Manitoba, said Sunday.

"It does two things. Basically, it rests the melt, and as such the runoff will ease," Topping said. "But the rivers, like the Assiniboine and Red River, are increasing in flows, and (with) ice jams, the ice is still solid and will remain solid in this colder weather, so ice jamming may be compounded or become more problematic."

The Portage Diversion began operating at about 5 p.m. Saturday to manage ice on the lower Assiniboine River, the province said.

"The purpose of that operation was to control water levels downstream from Portage to Headingley," Topping said. "Our objective is to control water levels such that we minimize ice jamming that can impact the Assiniboine dikes. We don't want over-topping of the dikes due to ice jams, so we keep the flow at about 5,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) at a constant, and hopefully the ice melts in place."

Topping said an ice jam that began Saturday near Spruce Woods Provincial Park caused water levels on the Assiniboine River to rise about two metres, covering Highway 5 in water.

"The water levels rose seven feet and flooded out PTH 5 just east of the bridge," said Topping, who hoped water levels could ease enough for the road to reopen today.

A high-water advisory, issued Saturday by the province, is for the Assiniboine River from St-Lazare to Portage la Prairie due to ice jamming and the potential for ice jams and flooding.

"That's in place now and will be in place likely until this cold spell is over," Topping said.

"The Red River is near crest at Grand Forks within the next two days. It's about 31,000 cfs, so (it is) a much smaller flood than most floods. So that's good news," Topping said. "The crest will likely reach Emerson maybe by Friday. It's not certain yet whether we'll have to put the floodway into operation."

Water flows along the Red River and its tributaries remain within banks.

The main hot spot for flooding is The Pas, where above-normal soil moisture and winter precipitation have resulted in the potential for greater-than-normal runoff and localized flooding. Existing flood protection is expected to be adequate for the projected levels.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

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