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Frustration over flooding prompting many to sell their farms

Eddystone farmer Bill Finney inspects his flooded fields. The Portage Diversion has raised water levels and caused problems for farms along Lake Manitoba again.

BILL REDEKOP/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Eddystone farmer Bill Finney inspects his flooded fields. The Portage Diversion has raised water levels and caused problems for farms along Lake Manitoba again.

EDDYSTONE -- Bill Finney's hay fields near Lake Manitoba were just starting to come back nicely after the 2011 flood.

That was about right on schedule -- it takes three to five years for flooded pastures and hay land to fully recover.

Then the Portage Diversion was opened up full throttle again. Gusting winds in late July pushed Lake Manitoba whitecaps across Finney's field.

Flooded again.

"We were recovering and things were looking up," said Finney.

Now, after all he's been through since 2011, Finney said he's finally "exasperated."

Finney's probably the last one who is. The same story is being written all along the boundary of Lake Manitoba. It's a horror movie, The Return of the Portage Diversion.

Water from the Assiniboine River is being detoured into Lake Manitoba to protect the lower Assiniboine between Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg. The area is largely made up of farms and newer residential development. Winnipeg is largely protected by the Perimeter Highway.

"We understand why the Portage Diversion is being used. All we need now is the same flood protection as people on the lower Assiniboine. We need to be flood-protected and we don't want to wait seven years," said Finney.

There's the rub. The provincial government says it will take seven years to flood-proof against the Portage Diversion. The province plans to build another outlet for Lake Manitoba and make the emergency outlet for Lake St. Martin permanent. The opposition Tories say it could be done faster.

Naturally, Finney prefers to believe the latter.

"How would (people on the lower Assiniboine) feel if they were told they couldn't use the Portage Diversion for seven years while its effects are studied?" he asked.

Finney now must buy about 800 round bales of hay to make up for flooded land. That's at least a $40,000 expense the family farm -- he farms with brothers Lyle and Norman -- wasn't expecting.

Either that, or they'll have to sell their cattle again. During the 2011 flood, they sold off most of their herd.

Lake Manitoba is expected to crest this month at about 814.8 feet above sea level. The big factor for the next several months will be wind.

Farmers are receiving various levels of government compensation but find themselves caught in a standoff between the federal and provincial governments, Finney said.

The effects of flooding on this agricultural land last at least three to five years, but the federal government says its disaster-assistance program only allows for one year of compensation. The province is unwilling to pick up the other years alone, even though it promised farmers full compensation.

"I think it's unfortunate the two levels of government don't like each other. I hear that from the politicians all the time," said Finney, who sits on the Lake Manitoba Rehabilitation Committee.

Meantime, farms are being sold.

Finney's neighbour, a 48-year-old rancher, is in the process of selling his Lake Manitoba farm.

Joel Delauriers, 45, who ranched down the road, and who was threatening to sell in a Free Press profile during the 2011 flood, carried out his threat.

That's an age group farming is trying to hang on to.

Finney, 66, wants to sell, too, as do most farmers along Lake Manitoba's shoreline. But flooding has depressed land prices.

"We're not selling yet because we don't think we can get fair value until we get some flood-proofing," said Finney.

In addition to the Portage Diversion flooding farmland and cottages, and loading phosphorus and nitrogen into Lake Manitoba, it's also destroying the area's esthetics.

"I understand the use of the diversion. But all the trees along the lakeshore are now all dead" from artificial flooding, said Finney. "It's not an economic thing but it just wrecks the beauty of the lake."

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Thursday, August 14, 2014 at 7:22 AM CDT:
Corrects headline

Updated on Thursday, August 14, 2014 at 9:08 AM CDT:
Replaces photo

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