A guarded optimism passed through the province's flood zone Thursday as some evacuees returned home and many military personnel, deployed to sandbag at-risk homes, were told they were returning to base.
The focus now is on the growing likelihood the Assiniboine Valley will see even more water next week as a second surge builds on the upper Assiniboine and Qu'Appelle rivers. The high amount of water passing through St. Lazare near the Saskatchewan boundary damaged nine homes outside the community's ring dike and overwhelmed a provincial measuring gauge. Thirty-five provincial forest firefighters have been sent to assist the community with the flood situation, and Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said the province has asked for a report on why the homes did not have adequate protection despite an accurate forecast.
"We're going to assess, obviously, what happened in that situation with the municipality, which is the first line of response," Ashton said Thursday.
BRANDON -- The second crest along the Assiniboine River in St. Lazare brought some mandatory evacuation notices -- which residents largely ignored.
Ten homes in the RM of Ellice and three homes in town received the notices Wednesday. However, residents are reluctant to leave and officials are being lenient.
"We really can't force people to leave if they are worried about their pumps stopping and basements filling with water," said Rick Fouillard, chief administrative officer for St. Lazare.
Owen Jessop chose not to leave despite the evacuation notice. He said the majority of his neighbours stayed because they want to fight for their homes.
"If the river had come up another foot or so, I would have bailed," Jessop said.
The Assiniboine River crested in St. Lazare Wednesday evening at 1,290.78 feet, which is 8.4 inches higher than the 2011 peak.
High water levels are expected to hold for a few days, but Fouillard and Jessop said water has already begun to go down.
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In Brandon, crews are monitoring dikes around the clock as the second summer crest of the Assiniboine River reaches the city.
The river is expected to peak today through Sunday, says a revised forecast from the Province of Manitoba.
"We know that our dike is high enough and that we have some additional capacity to manage a rain event," said Brian Kayes, the city's director of risk and emergency management.
"Of course, we will remain vigilant and continue to monitor the dikes and pumps on a 24-hour basis until this is all completed."
The second peak is expected to be slightly higher than the initial July 6 crest, but very close to 2011 levels.
As of 4 p.m. Thursday, the river level at First Street was measured at 1,182.4 feet above sea level. In 2011, the river peaked at 1,182.89 feet.
The revised forecast estimates peak flows of 34,000 to 36,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). The peak water flow during the 2011 flood was 36,730 cfs.
-- Brandon Sun
A revised forecast for the second peak in Brandon shows levels will be above the first peak last Sunday of 34,330 cubic feet per second (cfs), but below the 2011 flood level of 36,730 cfs. Peak flows of about 34,000 to 36,000 cfs are expected to last for a day or two between today and Sunday.
The new forecast for a second crest at the Portage Reservoir calls for a peak flow between 46,000 to 47,500 cfs from Monday to Wednesday.
At Thursday's flood briefing, provincial officials said the first crest on the Assiniboine River peaked at the Portage Reservoir at midnight Wednesday at 52,100 cfs, slightly below the 2011 flood peak of 52,300 cfs. Floodwater hitting the reservoir is sent two ways, up the Portage Diversion into Lake Manitoba and down the Assiniboine River through Winnipeg and into the Red River at The Forks. Flows on the Portage Diversion were about 34,100 cfs and the flow on the Assiniboine River between Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg is expected to stay at about 18,000 cfs for several days.
The province activated the Red River Floodway July 1 to accommodate the floodwaters, runoff from torrential rains that have fallen in Saskatchewan and western Manitoba over the past month.
Ashton also said water topped the diversion and flooded several farmers' fields to the west. Overnight, a Canadian Forces Aurora surveillance aircraft spotted minor seepage along a dike on the Assiniboine River between Portage la Prairie and St. François Xavier. Work to shore up the dike started early Thursday.
Ashton said it's now even more unlikely a controlled breach of the Assiniboine River will take place at the Hoop and Holler bend, and affected residents whose homes were sandbagged in the past week should know shortly their land will not be deliberately flooded. The site was prepared, as it was used in the 2011 flood, to release water from the Assiniboine to reduce pressure on the dikes.
Ashton also said many of the 500 military personnel, deployed Saturday under a provincial state of emergency to help sandbag at-risk homes in the flood zone, were to find out within hours when they'd return to base.
Elsewhere, the Rural Municipality of Portage la Prairie lifted its mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders for about a dozen properties at Delta Beach on Lake Manitoba, just immediately east of where the Portage Diversion empties into the lake. They were asked to leave four days ago out of a concern the diversion might overflow.
As of Thursday, 56 municipalities and communities are still under local states of emergency and 728 evacuees remain out of their homes as a precautionary measure.