Barring a major storm, most Manitobans are unlikely to see severe flooding this spring.
In its first flood forecast of the season, the province on Wednesday said only minor to moderate flooding is expected along the Red, Assiniboine, Pembina and Souris rivers. Moderate flooding could also occur in the Interlake.
Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said with low soil moisture levels heading into freeze-up, the flood risk is considerably lower than in 2011, when more than 7,000 Manitobans were displaced due to flooding.
But above-average snowpack in parts of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and North Dakota this winter has raised the risk of greater flooding this year than last year.
"We're going to be watching the storm activity/precipitation very closely," Ashton told a news conference, flanked by senior flood experts and emergency measures personnel.
Heavy snows this winter in eastern Saskatchewan had raised concerns in some quarters significant flooding would occur along the Assiniboine River.
But forecasters said Wednesday with average weather, only minor flooding is predicted along low-lying portions of the upper Assiniboine in western Manitoba this year.
Officials wouldn't or couldn't say whether with normal weather conditions, any communities would have to be evacuated or whether Highway 75 to the U.S. border would need to be closed.
But they said given normal conditions, only minor use is expected to be made this year of the Red River Floodway and the Portage Diversion, which protects Winnipeg from waters flowing from the west along the Assiniboine.
If there is higher-than-normal precipitation, minor to moderate localized flooding could occur along the Red, as well as on tributaries such as the LaSalle, Rat and Morris rivers.
Levels along the main channel would be close to those in 2011 from Emerson to Winnipeg, flood experts said.
The difficulty with predicting flooding in late February is precipitation in March and early April is crucial to whether folks are hucking sandbags and closing ring dikes.
Other factors include the timing and speed of the snowmelt -- both here and to the south and west of us.
"A lot could change between now and the time of spring melt," said Philip Mutulu, the province's director of flood forecasting.
Wednesday's flood briefing lacked the tension evident in 2011, when officials issued their first report in January.
At the time, they predicted the potential for flooding was high for much of Manitoba. Those predictions turned out to be all too accurate.
Ashton spent some time Wednesday recapping the events of 2011 and pointing out the province is still grappling with the fallout.
He said the total cost of battling that flood and compensating flood victims has now hit $1.2 billion and the bills are still streaming in.
The 2011 flood saw 80 per cent of municipalities declare states of emergency, 30 per cent of the province's arable land under water and a one-in-400-year rise in Lake Manitoba. Some farmers and cottage owners along the lake are still embroiled in a dispute with government over compensation for that flood.
But this spring, Lake Manitoba is expected to remain within its normal operating range by the end of spring runoff.
The lake's current level is 811.8 feet above sea level, well within its operating range of 810.5 to 812.5 feet. Its historic long-term average level is 812.12 feet.
With average weather, the lake is expected to peak below 812.5 feet, officials predicted Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Lake Winnipeg is expected to drop to 713.3 feet by the end of winter, then rise to 713.7 feet by the end of May.
NOT SO BAD: Flood report highlights
Only minor to moderate flooding is likely along the Red, Souris, Pembina and Assiniboine rivers.
Minor to moderate flooding is also likely in parts of the Interlake.
Because of above-average snowpack in many parts of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and North Dakota, the risk of flooding is higher this year than it was at this time last year -- but far less than it was in 2011.
Red River levels at James Avenue in Winnipeg are predicted to peak at 14.05, 17.34 or 19.68 feet depending on whether weather conditions are favourable, average or unfavourable this spring. (In 1997, the peak was 24.5 feet)
According to the long-term weather outlook, southern Manitoba is likely to see normal temperatures and normal to above-normal precipitation in the coming month.
At freeze-up, several of the province's major rivers, including the Red and Assiniboine, were below normal levels.
November-to-February snowfall was near normal in most parts of Manitoba, but along the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border the snowpack is 200 to 240 per cent of normal.
The Red River Floodway and the Portage Diversion are unlikely to see significant use, given normal weather conditions this spring.
Flood forecast not a comfort for some
DESPITE forecasts calling for moderate to minimal flooding, farmers along Lake Manitoba still dealing with the fallout from a devastating flood in 2011 remain skeptical.
"I don't believe it," said Blair Olafson, a cattle producer and resort owner at Lake Manitoba Narrows. "The forecast can be moderate, but rain and a fast melt can screw up things, too."
Farmers such as Olafson want a more permanent solution, rather than living forecast to forecast -- such as an outlet to drain overflow into Lake Winnipeg.
Philip Thordarson, the reeve of the RM of Lakeview, added the forecast takes a back seat to concerns over the Portage Diversion, which Lake Manitoba residents believe is the major cause of their flooding woes.
"We're still not going to feel relieved until it's all over," Thordarson said. "It's looking good now, but there's still a lot of snow to the west. Who can tell us what the weather is going to be like for the next two months? If we had an outlet, we can feel comfortable, like the people of Winnipeg."