Manitoba’s emergency measures minister says keeping a watchful eye on a failing embankment near Waywayseecappo is a "24/7 operation."
"All of our planning has been based on the scenario that there will be a collapse of the embankment and the flood protection has been put in place based on ... the worst-case scenario," Steve Ashton said.
Flood-fighting officials are now focused on controlling water flows through a deliberate cut to the embankment made overnight Monday.
An excavator cut a notch into a section of former rail bed that was holding back some 30 metres of water from a tributary of Birdtail Creek.
Due to significant rainfall over the past two days, the controlled cut hasn’t significantly dropped water levels. But it has kept them stable and is preventing overflooding, Ashton said.
"This has prevented over-topping, which again would have added significant challenges in terms of the stability of the structure and the kind of scenario we’re looking at," Ashton said.
"It’s still has made a difference. Though it hasn’t dropped the level, clearly it’s reduced the pressure."
Provincial officials said the cut allows 100 to 150 cubic feet per second of water to flow through Birdtail Creek, reducing some pressure on the embankment, which is being held up with help from frozen soil, Ashton said.
In the meantime, the frozen culvert at the base of the embankment, which was the original blockage causing the water backup, appears to be thawing, and slowly water flow is starting to come through. Ashton said due to the culvert’s location, this "was not something that could have been detected initially."
The controlled breach and pump trucks, combined with the slow flows from the culvert, are expected to relieve pressure off the embankment.
However, the province says the risk of the embankment failing is still high.
"We are a long way from being out of the woods," said Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Doug McNeil. "It’s still a precarious situation."
Provincial officials also said Tuesday that 73 residents have been evacuated from Wayway, 39 from Birtle, four from the RM of Birtle and three from Rossburn.
Wayway Chief Melville Wabash said sandbagging efforts to protect the community’s two water treatment centres were still ongoing late Tuesday afternoon.
"It’s just wait and see, I guess," he said. "Everybody’s still doing what they’re supposed to do and we’re just trying to protect what we can at home and below the site as well."
Birtle Mayor Dwight Stewart said the cut in the embankment is good for the area.
"Every foot they can lower it is good for us, so hoping that will mean less water coming down," Stewart said. "We expect some water flow from that, but I don’t think it’s going to be very great."
Birtle is also seeking volunteers to work three-hour shifts to help man security checkpoints near road closures and protect evacuated homes.
"They’re evacuated and they’re empty and we just want to control things ... but there’s certainly been no issues in that area," Stewart said.
Birtle is also accepting food donations. Those wanting to donate their time or make a food donation can call the municipal office at 1-204-842-5390.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 30, 2014