CHARLES TWEED/BRANDON SUN
Farmland just west of Deerboine Colony is shown flooded on Wednesday. The Assiniboine River has flooded in the valley again this year, leaving many farmers scrambling and requesting the province to come to their aid.
Farmers in the Assiniboine Valley are demanding compensation after thousands of acres of farmland were flooded due to what they call "man-made error."
A road north of Alexander near the Highway 250 bridge has water running over the top of it. Flooding in the Assiniboine Valley has wiped out roads and decimated crops. (CHARLES TWEED/BRANDON SUN)
"The farmers here are so devastated you can’t even imagine," said Mel Hofer, who manages Deerboine Colony north of Alexander in the Assiniboine Valley. "A natural disaster we can take, but not a man-made error. The government is using us in the valley as a reservoir for down east. Farmers can’t survive this way."
Hofer believes compensation for flooded acres from the province is only fair and said that farmers near Portage la Prairie were compensated last year after the government had to flood land to relieve pressure from the Assiniboine River.
"We asked for the water to be lowered by four feet (in the Shellmouth Dam) and it never happened," Hofer said. "If they would have dropped that dam, the water would have gone and the pressure from the east holding it back would have been less."
"When they opened the dam near Portage last year, they compensated everyone and we feel we should get the same thing on this end."
Of the 50,000 acres of farmland in the valley from the Shellmouth Dam to Brandon, it is believed that at least 40,000 acres will be affected by overland flooding, according to the Assiniboine Valley Producers. Hofer estimates he has already lost between 1,000 to 1,200 acres of crop.
"It’s the timing. This year, we put the crop in and undertook all of the expense, and now it’s man-made error up north that is hurting us really hard," Hofer said. "One year you could live with it, but it’s three years in a row. This is the second out of the last four that we’ve put all the inputs in and reaped zero."
The operation of the Shellmouth Dam, which was closed to hold back water this spring due to fears of a drought, could have been handled more professionally, according to Progressive Conservative conservation critic Larry Maguire.
"This is worse than last year in regards to the impact on farmers because they put all of the inputs into the land," said Maguire, who is the MLA for Arthur-Virden, where some of the flooding is taking place.
Last year, the province introduced legislation that would require compensation for artificial flooding caused by the Shellmouth Dam operation, but according to Maguire, the province is still undergoing a study to determine just what "artificial" means.
"The frustration of the farmers is quite within their rights because they don’t know if they are going to get any compensation," Maguire said. "It almost looks like the act was put in place so they never had to make a payout."
"(Farmers in the valley) are not against others being able to use water downstream, but if these things happen and water is held back behind the dam at higher levels than have been historically, then if they are flooded out they need to have a compensation package."
Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh was unavailable for comment on Wednesday, but according to provincial cabinet spokesperson Jean-Marc Prevost, the flooding was unavoidable.
"Even with a lower drawdown of the reservoir, flooding would still have occurred," Prevost said. "The Shellmouth Dam reservoir does not guarantee against flooding in heavy precipitation events."
The Assiniboine watershed was hit hard through April to June, with more than double the average amount of rain falling, and Prevost said the province wants to remain flexible in their ability to aid farmers hit by the flooding.
"The province is prepared to asses if insurance programming can be modified to effectively address the unique circumstances impacting producers’ lands in the Assiniboine Valley between the Shellmouth Dam and Brandon," Prevost said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 12, 2012