Three years after southern Manitobans battled a one-in-300-year flood, the southwest corner is once again sodden after a lengthy storm system dumped record precipitation on the Prairies.
As a result, hundreds of Manitobans were forced to evacuate their homes this week, and 41 municipalities had declared states of emergency due to the flooding.
And while the floodwaters have gone down in some communities, such as Virden, the provincial government expects water levels on the Assiniboine River, and many other creeks and rivers to surge with water runoff coming in from Saskatchewan, which also got drenched last weekend.
In Brandon, those floodwaters along the Assiniboine are expected to be near or exceed the 2011 flood level.
We do not yet know the full extent of the flooding, as the crest is only expected to occur later next week. But already more than 78 roads have been closed or affected.
As we reported in Thursday’s paper, in the RM of Wallace alone, conservative estimates suggest damage will be in the $2 million range, with 380 kilometres of road closed.
While the flood of 2014 is a different animal than the double surge of water that struck parts of Westman three years ago, there is no doubt that this latest flood will further strain the provincial government’s financial situation. Indeed, ever since the flood of 2011, Manitoba’s financial books have been awash in red ink.
The 2011 flood came with a staggering price tag, which soared well above a billion dollars. And though a large portion of that was supposed to be picked up by the federal government, Manitoba ran a record $999-million deficit in 2011-12 because of it.
According to the province’s 2011 Flood Review Task Force report, published in April 2013, the 2011 flood affected 154 provincial roads and highways, 500 municipal roads, 73 damaged highway provincial structures and 500 municipal bridges. As of the date of the report, the estimated value of repairs to bridge sites on the provincial highway network impacted by flooding in the Souris and Assiniboine basins alone was $70 million.
That particular flood year impacted residents, farmers and business across the province with damage to and closures of flooded roads and bridges. Many farmers couldn’t access farmland, and those who could were forced to take alternate routes to get to their land.
Still many more were either unable to plant a crop or had a planted field drowned out.
The province estimates that at least three million acres of cultivated farmland was left unseeded in 2011, a situation that caused additional headaches for producers in the area the following spring. And in many locations, some parts of the southwest corner have never fully recovered from the 2011 flood.
Keep in mind, the bridge that connected Coulter and Waskada on Highway 251 only opened to vehicle traffic again in March of this year, after the original structure was destroyed by flooding in 2011.
We also note that three years after one of the worst floods in the province’s history, there were still nearly 2,000 flood evacuees out of their homes earlier this year. They only returned home in April, but not before the price tag for housing evacuees topped $80 million.
In the wake of that flood, Manitobans have seen user fees go up and their taxes rise significantly. Government officials have defended the province’s PST increase from seven to eight per cent as a means to — in part — help pay for flood-related infrastructure damage, much of which still required completion.
Though the final damage estimate for 2014 won’t be tallied for weeks, if not months, we fear what it will do to the province’s bottom line.