The Selinger government is in a race to lower Lake Manitoba before next spring as the cost of fighting this year's flood in western Manitoba almost doubles what was seen in the 1997 Red River deluge.

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This article was published 4/7/2011 (3798 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

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The Selinger government is in a race to lower Lake Manitoba before next spring as the cost of fighting this year's flood in western Manitoba almost doubles what was seen in the 1997 Red River deluge.

Work to pick a route to transport water from Lake Manitoba into Lake Winnipeg has already started, with the province hoping to have a ditch dug by Jan. 1 so it can lower Lake Manitoba by more than four feet over the winter, officials said Monday.

Souris's damaged suspension bridge is seen from the air on Monday.

TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN

Souris's damaged suspension bridge is seen from the air on Monday.

"We see this as an emergency outlet and may have to be constructed under a provincial state of emergency," Steve Topping, the province's chief flood-fighter and head of operations for Manitoba Water Stewardship, said Monday. "The CEAA (Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency) and also the provincial environmental-licensing processes would not have to be gone through under a provincial state of emergency. They will be fast-tracked."

News the province is working quickly to ease the pressure on the flooded Lake Manitoba, likely through a mini-floodway from Lake St. Martin to Lake Winnipeg, was mostly welcomed by those who live or have cottages on Lake Manitoba, but also condemned because it wasn't happening fast enough. Lake Manitoba's water level is at 817.13 feet above sea level -- its highest ever. The lake is as high as it is partly due to so much water flowing into it this year through the Portage Diversion from the Assiniboine River.

Lake Manitoba empties into Lake St. Martin, which then empties in Lake Winnipeg via the Dauphin River. One plan under consideration is a controlled diversion that parallels the Dauphin River.

"I'm just wildly disappointed," flooded-out Langruth rancher Tom Teichroeb said. "This is just beyond stupid. There is just no reason why it should take until January of next year to get the lake down. They are drowning people. It's their obligation to get their (act) together and get this damn lake down."

Teichroeb, chairman of the Lake Manitoba Flood Rehabilitation Committee, also said Premier Greg Selinger's announcement Monday on increased compensation for flood victims is nothing more than pandering to urban voters.

"That's not the real picture," he said. "When you're on this side of it, it's pretty pathetic."

Don Clarkson, of the Association of Lake Manitoba Stakeholders, said he hopes the province starts work on the drainage outlet -- there is no cost estimate for it yet -- as soon as possible. The province has two engineering firms studying possible routes.

"Any improvement is good," Clarkson said. "The lake is not going down any time soon. It's still coming up."

Clarkson was one of hundreds of people evacuated in late May because of a destructive storm on Lake Manitoba. His home at Delta Beach has foundation damage and he likely won't be allowed to return for a year.

"We actually look like a ghost town more than anything. Here it's summer and there is nobody sitting out there enjoying it."

Clarkson and Twin Lakes Beach cottager Jeff Douglas said they're concerned the province's new compensation plan is too vague. It doesn't recognize the value of cottages wrecked during the storm or if compensation payments are considered income by the Canada Revenue Agency.

"This is still woefully short when they were the ones at fault," Douglas said.

Selinger's announcement comes as this year's flood bill almost doubles what was spent fixing and flood-proofing the Red River Valley following the 1997 flood. The cost of this year's flood in western Manitoba will top $550 million and could climb higher depending on the weather and the extent of flooding on the Souris River.

The cost of fighting and damages from the 1997 Red River flood were about $280 million.

Ottawa covers a large portion of compensation and flood-proofing costs.

Selinger said while costs are mounting, the province can't worry about the impact to its own books, which are in deficit under the government's five-year economic recovery plan.

"The fact of the matter is that people are suffering," he said. "Incomes have been lost. Homes have been lost. Communities are at risk of losing their economic base. The faster we help people rebuild their homes, the faster we help communities recover, the better it will be for the economy."

Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen said the uncertainty in Selinger's flood-compensation plan is a problem.

"We support urgent action to address dangerously high lake levels," McFadyen said. "We are concerned about the vagueness."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca