TIM SMITH / BRANDON SUN
Floodwater from the swollen Assiniboine River pours over the road leading into Turtle Crossing Campground and into a field of canola just west of Brandon on Thursday.
High water in the Assiniboine River has officially reached the city, submerging roads and laying in farmers’ fields, all within a stone’s throw of 18th Street.
Art MacPherson stands on farmland about five miles west of Brandon south of Grand Valley Road near the Assiniboine River. The land used to grow canola prior to last year's flood, but was washed away along with a large piece of the dike that was used to protect the land from high waters.
The flooding is a result of several factors, one of which is a hole in the dike system about five miles west of the city.
Art MacPherson, who owns the land where the dike is breached, submitted an application with the Emergency Measures Organization last year after the flood receded and damages could be assessed, he said he just heard back from EMO this month, but couldn’t get any specifics from the organization regarding disaster assistance.
"A week ago, I got a call from EMO and the guy said he reviewed my claim and when I can find someone to do some work to send him some bills and they would see what they could do," MacPherson said.
The hole, which MacPherson estimates is between 400 and 500 yards long and will cost about $400,000 to $500,000 to fix, is going to require a substantial amount of work as fill will have to be trucked in to repair the dike.
"I can’t afford that kind of money to pull out of my own pocket with the hopes that I may get some of it back," MacPherson said. "If I can, I will get it repaired, but it’s not going to be an overnight fix."
"If the premier of the province was to send me a letter saying they will guarantee me so much money to compensate me for fixing the damages, then I would have something to go on," he added.
MacPherson is also adding himself to a growing number of farmers who believe that better management of the Shellmouth Dam could have prevented some of the flooding in the Assiniboine Valley this year.
"I don’t control how much it rains in Saskatchewan and I don’t control the Shellmouth Dam," MacPherson said. "We told them they aren’t managing the dam properly and I have problems with the way they’ve operated the Shellmouth Dam. They let it fill to the top thinking there would be no runoff this year."
MacPherson estimates he has lost about 100 acres of farmland that couldn’t be seeded due to the flood last year, with another 50 acres of seeded land lost due to flooding waters coming through the breach in the dike this year.
"I understand that they don’t have a crystal ball, but they could do a little better when people on their advisory committee were advising them to drain water because there was more water coming that they couldn’t handle, and they ignored that recommendation," MacPherson said. "They need to leave themselves some manoeuvring room."
Mark Kovatch, owner of Turtle Crossing campground, sympathizes with MacPherson and believes the province needs to aid in the repair of the dike that is important to keeping agricultural land, the campground and ultimately the city from flooding.
"That’s a $500,000 bill, and he can’t be expected to fix that himself," Kovatch said.
Luckily for the campground owner, the water is just going over the road at this point, not affecting any of the campground spots or facilities.
"The park is fine," Kovatch said, encouraging campers to come down and check it out, but he too has concerns over the operation of the dam.
"If they hadn’t of held that much (water), the river wouldn’t have gotten as high and we would have been OK," Kovatch said.
"If you have a dry spring and the dam is as full as it is, they should be letting some go. I know they’re trying to balance the interests of the people on the Lake (of the Prairies), but from an economic standpoint, someone having to go a little further to get to their boat to go fishing isn’t the same as flooding out a farmer’s field."
A government spokesman couldn’t talk specifically about MacPherson’s claim with EMO, but did say the Disaster Financial Assistance program is designed to restore farm land to pre-disaster condition.
As for an exact amount or percentage, that depends on the claim.
"DFA payments are based on actual incurred expenses for eligible activities based on reasonable industry standards and hourly rates," the spokesman said.
And while some farmers continue to point fingers at the province for mismanaging the dam, the spokesperson said the reservoir reduced the peak level of flooding that would have occurred on the land.
"The Assiniboine Valley producers are farming vulnerable, low-lying Assiniboine Valley lands," the spokesman said.
"Given the 2012 extremely dry basin conditions and low precipitation, the reservoir was managed to proved optimum flood protection to Manitobans."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 13, 2012