Had the provincial government built dikes in Brandon as promised in 2006, money could have been saved and an evacuation of residents in the Flats could have been avoided, provincial Liberal Leader Dr. Jon Gerrard said Friday.
“This flood should not have been as severe as it was for two reasons,” Gerrard said while in Brandon to promote his report on the flood of 2011. “One is the water management policies involved with governments over the past several decades have contributed to increased water coming off the land.”
Gerrard added the failure of provincial governments to account for increased water flow into Lake Manitoba through the Portage Diversion, without an outlet from that lake into Lake Winnipeg was also a major factor in the severity of the flood.
His report offers 65 recommendations to the province on what he believes could have limited the severity of flooding on the Assiniboine and Souris rivers. He was particularly critical of a broken promise made in 2006 by then premier Gary Doer to protect build dikes to one-in-100-year flood levels, or 1,181.6 feet above sea level, which is a mere 15 inches below the 2011 peak of 1,182.9 feet above sea level.
“Brandon could have been protected against that flood with a few rows of ordinary sandbags if the province had delivered on the …flood protection that was promised,” Gerrard said. “It wasn’t completed in time for the 2011 flood and it would have saved a lot of cost, effort and destruction if it had been built.”
Instead, the city had to spend $5.3 million to fight the flood, endure weeks of evacuations and temporary business closures.
Gerrard called for an investigation into why that dike wasn’t built when promised and the full cost resulting from “this mistake” as part of his recommendations.
He also called for greater co-operation between the Manitoba, Saskatchewan and North Dakota governments, and better modelling studies for the entire watershed for the Souris and Assiniboine rivers.
“This flood cost the provincial government $1 billion and the losses to farmers were about $1 billion,” Gerrard said. “The costs to non-farm businesses has not been added up yet, but that’s pretty significant, too.”
Gerrard blamed a water management strategy that focused on draining excess water from farmland rather than a water retention plan that can mitigate flood damage. In his report, Gerrard states that there is a 30 per cent increase in the amount of water coming off the land in western Manitoba. His solution is similar to one already in use on South Tobacco Creek, where a series of coffer dams has reduced downstream flooding by 75 per cent and peak runoff by 25 per cent.
“There is no way we can escape the need for more water retention and keeping more water on the land,” Gerrard said.
Gerrard also pointed to the Alternative Land Use Services pilot project that ran in the RM of Blanshard, between Hamiota and Rapid City, as a missed opportunity because the project only ran from 2006-08.
“It paid people for keeping water in wetlands as opposed to draining the land,” Gerrard said. “It was paid on a per-acre basis and what happened was the program was effective.
“It’s negligent for the government to put in a program for three years and then not continue to build on a very successful program.”
Gerrard’s full report, which he said has been submitted to Manitoba Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton as well as Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh, can be found on the Manitoba Liberal Party website.