The flood fight is over. Long live the flood fight.
As the city announced yesterday morning, the Assiniboine River has finally receded below 1,172 feet above sea level, as measured at the First Street Bridge. Although that’s still high enough to have water in some low-lying areas of riverside parks, the river is now by-and-large below its banks after a harrowing six weeks of unexpected flooding.
We applaud the many people — city and provincial workers, businesspeople, homeowners and volunteers — who have stepped up since June to keep the waters at bay. No doubt there will be many well-earned vacations to Cuba this winter as people cash in their overtime or banked time.
But now is not the time for sitting on our hands. Indeed, in many ways the tough work is just beginning.
Not only will First Street North have to be repaved (and perhaps built a little higher?) but it is dispiriting to realize that we have to once again commence cleaning up many of our parks, just as cleanup work from 2011 was finally paying dividends.
Once-popular recreational areas like Eleanor Kidd Park and the pedestrian bridge have been closed since March 2011 — that’s right, it has been more than 40 months (around 1,200 days) since Brandonites have been able to enjoy what were once central attractions.
Some of the hard work that had been done to prepare them for reopening will now have to be done again. Other areas, like the Wheat City Golf Course and the Optimist Park soccer pitches, will also have to be cleaned of silt and re-sodded before they can again been used.
There’s no way to look into the future and predict when the next huge flood will be. Next year? Next decade? Next century? Historical statistics — that we’ve just had two one-in-300-year floods nearly back-to-back — can only suggest so much. Ongoing climate change complicates those calculations even further. It’s plausible that we are in for floods like these on a regular basis, or that we are just a few years away from extended droughts.
While the dikes that were thrown up in 2011 performed adequately this year as well, we remember all too well the hot-potato bickering between city and province over who would take the lead in upgrading those dikes into permanent flood protection. Ironically, some of those upgrades were supposed to have finally started this year.
But flood protection is only half of the equation — the river should also once again be a recreational centrepiece. As a community, we will need to have a conversation about how we can best make use of our river, while keeping in mind that there will be both wet years and dry.
In the coming weeks, we expect to hear mayoral and city council candidates expound on their ideas for flood recovery and future plans. Electioneering was rightly delayed during the worst of the flood, but that has now passed and Oct. 22 is coming quickly.
Also coming quickly should be some policy announcements. Among the platitudes about motherhood and apple pie, we’ll be looking for candidates’ concrete proposals on many issues — but the Assiniboine River should be near the top of their minds.
It’s been mighty quiet out there on the hustings. And that’s a dike we wouldn’t mind seeing break.