Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/8/2012 (3263 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
VIRDEN — The difference between natural and artificial flooding is a couple hundred thousand dollars for many of the farmers whose land was flooded by the Assiniboine River in June.
Virden-area farmer Keith Pearn said the Shellmouth Dam Act is supposed to offer compensation to farmers affected by its operations during an artificial flood. However, that is defined by the provincial government.
“The biggest problem in that act is the definition of what is natural (flooding) and what is artificial,” Pearn said. “Even though they held water back for the greater good of this province, they are still calling this a natural flood. They lost control of it. They had no control over it in the end at the dam. It’s still going over the spillway, a foot and a half of water.”
After seeing dollar signs in the spring with the high canola and wheat prices available this year, Pearn just sees bills and bulrushes in his flooded-out land near the Assiniboine River, and he blames the operations of the Shellmouth Dam for flooding his land.
“It certainly wasn’t the rain,” said Pearn, who farms near Virden. “There wasn’t that much of it.”
Stan Cochrane, a farmer near the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, said the province has “no concept of what’s natural or artificial.”
“They called last year’s flood and Lake Manitoba a natural flood,” Cochrane said. “But when they built the Portage Diversion, they started dumping 20,000 cubic feer per second from the Assiniboine into Lake Manitoba. How in the hell can that be natural? It was man-made. That ditch didn’t just happen. That water would have flowed naturally into the Red River.”
Pearn’s story is like many in the Assiniboine River valley between Brandon and the Shellmouth Dam. After seeding a crop on his land in the valley, and spraying for weeds and pests, he lost the crop when water kept rising in June.
“We saw water destroy wheat that had headed out, canola that was flowering,” Pearn said. “We have 2,000 acres down there and we probably lost 1,750 to 1,800.”
Cochrane farms downstream near the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, but his fate is similar to Pearn’s.
“We lost about 1,500,” Cochrane said. “We had 400 acres that was diked and we lost 300 on the last day the river peaked. The dike went out on a place where it went out last year and we had replaced it. We just didn’t make it high enough, I guess.”
There are plenty of acres of flooded-out crop land, including 10,000 acres in the RM of Woodworth alone, said Denis Carter, the municipality’s reeve.
Pearn said the area’s farmers have written Premier Greg Selinger to seek help, sending the letter a month ago.
“We haven’t even received a reply to say that he received the letter,” Pearn said. “He hasn’t sat down to talk to us. I don’t think that’s fair.”
To Pearn and Cochrane, it also makes sense to discuss the flooding problems with Saskatchewan, as the Assiniboine River’s watershed lies deep within those borders.
“All of that water came from Saskatchewan,” Cochrane said. “Every ounce of water that comes through that dam comes from Saskatchewan. At one point, we were getting 20,000 cubic feet per second coming out of that dam. So if you lost a billion dollars and you knew where the water came from, why wouldn’t you be banging on their door and saying you should be paying some of this bill? As far as we know, they haven’t even been over to talk to them.”
Rachel Morgan, a cabinet press secretary for the provincial government, said no officials were available for interviews for this story. However, in an email to the Sun, Morgan said there are operational guidelines in place that take into account the potential that water could be released from other watersheds downstream. Other factors taken into account include ensuring water supplies, fisheries, recreation and tourism, and reducing flood damage.
“From November 2011 to March 2012, 50 mm of precipitation fell in the Assiniboine watershed. This was well below normal precipitation levels,” Morgan said.
However, from April to June, more than double the average precipitation, more than 200 mm, fell in that same area. Morgan added the operation of the dam is made by a liaison committee that includes representatives from the Assiniboine Valley Producers from Shellmouth to Brandon, the Association of Irrigators of Manitoba, the City of Brandon, the RM of Russell, the Shellmouth Assiniboine Valley Economic Development, the Shellmouth Commercial Operators as well as the cities of Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie.
Morgan said provincial officials will assess the affected areas to determine whether the flooding was caused by natural or artificial factors.
Whether the government officials come or not, there is a view that the longer the problems remain unfixed, the greater the costs in the end.
“People need to realize the true losses of all the impacted land and then they could figure out that they need a solution,” said Olive McKean, the reeve of the RM of Miniota. “Compensation plans never pay out what was lost and they don’t see the need to find a solution because it never costs them what it really should.”
McKean added if the dam were operated as it was originally intended, which was as a flood control structure, then compensation would not be required as often as it has been, and the producers in the valley could reap the harvests and benefits of good commodity prices others will this fall.
“The people who don’t think this matters really need to put themselves in our shoes and just see how it feels to have your livelihood controlled by someone else,” McKean said.