After dealing with two major floods in three years, Brandon City Council has voted to support the establishment of an Assiniboine River Basin Commission.
In a unanimous vote on Monday, councillors supported the resolution brought forward by Mayor Shari Decter Hirst.
"Fighting floods isn’t just about building higher dikes. We have to look at what happens before it starts to rain, before it starts to melt," she said. "We have to think about it … upstream as well as downstream."
The City of Brandon dealt with the historic spring flood of 2011, which was thought to be a one-in-300-year flood.
However, just three years later, Brandon was dealt yet another blow.
This summer’s flood was the result of high rainfall in the region and it had city crews scrambling to hold back record water levels along the Assiniboine River. Dikes were built up and crews monitored flood protection around the clock.
The second summer crest actually reached levels higher than 2011.
No residential evacuations were necessary, but the high water has caused significant damage to many city parks.
"Brandon would benefit from a co-ordinated, multi-jurisdictional, long-term Assiniboine River Basin watershed strategy," states council’s resolution.
The Assiniboine River Basin Initiative was established to encourage improved dialogue among a broad range of stakeholders, including conservation groups, scientists, agricultural producers, municipalities, First Nations, water agencies and the provincial, state and local governments involved in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and North Dakota.
It was modelled along the lines of the Red River Basin Commission, a grassroots-led organization that has served as an effective forum for cross-border dialogue and planning in the Red River Valley for well over a decade.
The initiative is in the early stages, with some initial discussion recently held in North Dakota.
Decter Hirst is calling for the Assiniboine commission to be headquartered in Brandon.
"We’re the largest centre along the river basin and we have a great deal of networking and expertise," she said. "We have the ability to put the stakeholders together."
The mayor says it’s "imperative" to get the discussions started on future flood prevention and protection strategies, whether it is looking at programs to get farmers to hold water on their land for compensation or different water storage techniques such as sloughs or dry dams.
"I’m hoping that having Brandon so strongly in support of the establishment of this, with the suggestion that it be located in Brandon that we can really take a leadership role in it," she said.
Earlier this month, Premier Greg Selinger announced the Manitoba government will provide $50,000 toward the startup activities of the new commission.
"Floodwaters know no boundaries, so our solutions and strategies for fighting floods have to include our neighbours," Selinger said.
"Unfortunately, we are seeing more frequent and severe flooding, not only in Manitoba but across North America."
Last month, Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire called upon the governments of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and North Dakota to form an Assiniboine River Basin Commission.
"The time is now to come together with various stakeholders and for government officials to have a seat at the table," Maguire said at a Keystone Agricultural Producers meeting.
"It is true that borders divide Manitoba from Saskatchewan and Canadian provinces from American states, but the flow of water and the need to respond to the potential damage should unite all of us in a common purpose and mission."
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