Rows of corn sit in close to two feet of water from the Assiniboine River about six miles north of Griswold after water breached dikes.
A wall of water is invading the Assiniboine Valley, flooding thousands of acres of farmland and leaving producers in the area to question why more wasn’t done to prevent the devastation.
Lightning strikes just south of the Trans-Canada Highway, beside Grand Valley Provincial Park, during a thunderstorm early Wednesday. Several thunderstorms rolled through Westman yesterday, bringing more rain to the region. (MARK FLETCHER/FOR THE SUN)
Rows of canola are engulfed by flood waters north of Virden in the Assiniboine River Valley. Flooding in the valley will mean some farmers haven’t been able to get a crop in for three years now in some areas. (SUBMITTED)
North of Virden, water from the Assiniboine River has caused overland flooding, washing out roads and wiping out crops in the area. (SUBMITTED)
"We’re totally flooded out, virtually ever acre is lost in the Assiniboine Valley from the Shellmouth Dam right to Virden, and Oak Lake is going under as we speak," said Keith Pearn, who estimates he’s lost close to 2,000 acres of seeded farmland already.
"It’s just a mess."
For some farmers in the valley, this will be the third consecutive year without getting a crop harvested.
"It’s a devastating feeling to watch your crop go under water," Pearn said. "We’ve spent all the money — sewed the crops, put all the inputs in, sprayed them — and it’s just devastating. I’m not sure how else I can describe it."
While heavy rains in Saskatchewan and Manitoba combined with a high water table from last year’s flood have created the perfect storm for flooding, Pearn, who is also the secretary of the Assiniboine Valley Producers (AVP), wonders why more water wasn’t released from the Shellmouth Dam earlier this spring to minimize the flooding.
"The government doesn’t want to talk about the flooding because in March, they thought there was going to be a drought so they closed the Shellmouth Dam down and Steve Topping (with Manitoba Water and Stewardship) said, ‘I have to ensure a supply of water for the likes of Brandon and irrigation,’" Pearn said.
The fact the dam was closed and the reservoir was full meant the province’s ability to control and minimize flooding from heavy rains was nullified, according to Stan Cochrane, chairman of AVP.
"(The government) panicked and filled the dam up and by the time it started raining there was no capacity for flood control," Cochrane said.
Of the 50,000 acres of farmland in the valley from the Shellmouth Dam to Brandon, Cochrane estimates that at least 40,000 acres will be affected by overland flooding. He has had to watch 700 acres of his own farmland be swallowed up by water, and can’t understand why the province didn’t act sooner.
"We requested that they let some water go two or three times," said Cochrane, who also sits on the Shellmouth Reservoir Regulation Liaison Committee, which has input into the province’s water flow at the Shellmouth Dam.
In April, the water level in the reservoir was sitting 10 feet higher than it was last year, according to Cochrane, and it’s also when he asked the province to increase the flow from about 230 cubic feet per second to 1,000 cubic feet per second to lessen the risk of flooding.
"All we can do is give our advice, but we never agreed to hold water at the dam," Cochrane said, although some members of the liaison committee did ask the province to hold the water to ensure levels in the Assiniboine River throughout the summer. "The decision is (Water and Stewardship’s) to make."
Last year, some farmers were compensated for land that went unseeded through a government program, however this year, Cochrane said nearly all of the land in the valley was seeded, which means farmers will be left to carry the burden of cost for the flooded fields.
"It’s a loss that comes straight out of the farmer’s pocket," Cochrane said. "There is no compensation and we received nothing last year (for seeded acres lost)."
Although some flooding may be covered by crop insurance, it probably won’t help as average yields from crop above the valley will minimize or eliminate the payments from claims.
For farmers in the area, the only thing harder than watching their hard work in the spring be washed away due to overland flooding is having to watch what was expected to be a bumper crop be destroyed.
"It looked beautiful out in the valley, up until now," Cochrane said, estimating the water has gone up six inches in a 24-hour period ending yesterday morning near Griswold.
"We can’t have many more of those increases or it’ll all be flooded."
Worse yet, much of the water impacting Cochrane came from rains outside of the province.
"It gets to a point where someone has to stand up and say to Saskatchewan that you have to quit draining and dumping water on us," Cochrane said. "I understand that water is an important commodity, but if (Manitoba) is going to continue to take more of it they have to figure out how to deal with it."
"Are they going to raise everyone’s dikes?" Cochrane asked. "How many millions of dollars did we spend in Brandon to raise the dikes? I never saw anyone out here helping or paying me to raise my dikes."
From the province’s point of view, the dam and how it has been utilized to control the Assiniboine River water levels this summer has reduced flooding in an area that received more than double the average amount of rainfall in the watershed area over the last three months.
"Shellmouth has provided substantial flood protection downstream as inflows exceeded outflows," a government spokesman said. "However, in these extreme periods of precipitation, the Shellmouth Dam reservoir does not have the capacity to provide full flood protection immediately downstream of the reservoir due to the limited channel capacity of the river."
"Due to the prevailing dry conditions, the Shellmouth Liaison committee deemed it prudent to initiate operations to meet summer target level," the spokesman added.
Those operations would ultimately lead to the closing of the Shellmouth Dam, something Cochrane said he never agreed to.
"The Assiniboine Valley representatives were never okay with them closing the dam," Cochrane said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 5, 2012