Controlled release of flood water expected to swamp 300 homes

HOOP AND HOLLER BEND, Man. — Lourens Arendse was grading and bagging onions on his prosperous vegetable farm in south-central Manitoba as recently as Monday afternoon.

HOOP AND HOLLER BEND, Man. — Lourens Arendse was grading and bagging onions on his prosperous vegetable farm in south-central Manitoba as recently as Monday afternoon.

By Tuesday morning, he was frantically loading sandbags into his truck to try to protect his property from the leading edge of a controlled release from the Assiniboine River.

While the province says 150 homes could be impacted by the release, at least one municipal official says as many as 300 houses and some of the province’s most fertile farmland could be swamped.

“We were totally caught off guard,” said Arendse, who owns LA Quality Products in the Rural Municipality of Portage la Prairie.

“We have one group sandbagging, one group laying sandbags, one group trying to get as much furniture out of the houses as we can. The unfortunate part of this whole scenario is that we didn’t get any real notice.”

In Brandon, city crews, volunteers, army reservists and jail inmates seemed to be winning the battle against the swollen Assiniboine River despite steady rain.

But the situation was different further east where Manitoba announced it would open barriers and allow the Assiniboine to spill over a 225-square-kilometre area to relieve pressure on downstream dikes. Officials said without the release, the river was likely to burst through dikes and swamp 500 square kilometres and 850 homes.

That release could start as early as Wednesday.

“It’s complete devastation in the making here,” said Arendse, who expects the planned release will inundate all 121 hectares he planned to harvest this year on his farm, which employs up to 50 people. He’s also got seven houses on his land for family and workers.

Nearby farmer Doug Connery, one of the biggest berry and vegetable growers in the area, said the decision could put his operation out of business.

“I’m a fourth-generation farmer,” said Connery, who sells over $5 million of produce a year and employs up to 150 people. “If they make this cut and it’s as bad as they say it’s going to be, this farm could be done.”

Decisions involving the release were made within hours on Monday, said Kam Blight, reeve of the Municipality of Portage la Prairie.

“We were first notified mid-afternoon (Monday). We were told we had a few days and then plans changed as of 11 o’clock last night.”

Blight said the province’s decision to deliberately flood the area was made because of the consequences of an uncontrolled rush of water through a burst dike. But many are wondering if it couldn’t have been another region to take one for the team.

“They are taking the most valuable agricultural land in the province and destroying it,” said Connery.

It’s an assessment echoed by Doug Chorney, president of Manitoba’s Keystone Agricultural Producers.

“It’s extremely great soil,” said Chorney. “Growing conditions are ideal. It’s a soil condition that is not really found anywhere else in the province.”

He said the region hasn’t experienced major flooding in decades.

Manitoba Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers has promised both federal and provincial governments will do what they can for compensation, he added.

“But I did not get assurance of 100 per cent compensation — that’s what we need to hear.”

In Brandon, the Assiniboine River may have crested Tuesday.

“We are happy to see that the river seems to be levelling off. It hasn’t really changed since yesterday,” said Brian Kayes, the city’s director of emergency management.

“But with this river, and with this year, anything can change.”

Crews spent days building up earth dikes along the banks of the river and installing levees made of one-metre-high supersized sandbags along the two main roads linking the city’s north and south sides. The water was higher than the road, but there was still 30 centimetres or more of dry space at the top of the dike.

Small amounts of water were seeping through, so the effort Tuesday was focused on shoring up defences.

“We’re out there throwing dirt in order to control seepage … to ensure the dike has a good integrity,” said Ted Snure, acting city manager.

Police were patrolling an evacuated area on the city’s south side to ensure residents from about 400 homes were obeying orders to leave. Natural gas lines were shut off to homes due to fears that, if the dikes give way, flood water could shift underground pipes and break them.

Evacuees have been given up to $29.90 a person each day and told to find a hotel or relative’s home to stay. They were being allowed to return to their properties only to retrieve medication or check on sump pumps.

Some 500 homes on the north side of the river were told they might need to evacuate as well, but officials said that wouldn’t be necessary if dikes hold and the river doesn’t rise further.

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton and Steve Lambert in Brandon

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Arshdeep Bains eyes a loose puck in front of the Medicine Hat Tigers net Saturday night in WHL action at the Centrium. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Rebels fall short in 12th straight loss

Tigers 5 Rebels 2 (Saturday) Tigers 3 Rebels 2 (Monday) The Red… Continue reading

Red Deer property owners will receive their 2019 property assessment notices in the next few days.  (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer awaiting more details on how federal budget impacts city

The City of Red Deer is awaiting more information on how much… Continue reading

With a ban on sit-in dining once again in place, Las Palmeras owner Andre Lemus is gearing up for more takeout and delivery business. He has also applied to set up an outdoor patio, where dining is allowed under new restrictions. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Big interest in outdoor patios in Red Deer as sit-down dining banned again

City of Red Deer has tweaked its patio regulations to make it easier to get a permit

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

Ottawa Senators' Connor Brown, right, scores on Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom during second-period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Alta., Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Connor Brown scores twice for Ottawa Senators in 4-2 win over Calgary Flames

Connor Brown scores twice for Ottawa Senators in 4-2 win over Calgary Flames

Canada head coach Bev Priestman reacts during the women's international friendly soccer match between England and Canada at Bet365 stadium in Stoke on Trent, England, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. Priestman says her goal is to help Canada move up the Olympic podium after back-to-back bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Games. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Rui Vieira
Olympic soccer draw will allow Canadians to start planning on and off the pitch

Olympic soccer draw will allow Canadians to start planning on and off the pitch

Federal government’s extension of CEWS in budget is some good news for CFL franchises

Federal government’s extension of CEWS in budget is some good news for CFL franchises

Canada's Brendan Bottcher dropped a 6-3 decision to Scotland's Bruce Mouat in the men's final of the Humpty's Champions Cup. Bottcher makes a shot against Scotland at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Friday, April 9, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Mixed results for Canadian teams at Champions Cup as Homan wins, Bottcher loses

Mixed results for Canadian teams at Champions Cup as Homan wins, Bottcher loses

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. The University of Victoria says Williams has resigned effective immediately. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
University of Victoria women’s rowing coach resigns by mutual agreement

University of Victoria women’s rowing coach resigns by mutual agreement

Stewart Cink watches his drive down the second fairway during the final round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament in Hilton Head Island, S.C., Sunday, April 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Cink coasts to win at Hilton Head for 2nd title of season

Cink coasts to win at Hilton Head for 2nd title of season

The Official UEFA Champions League match balls are on display ahead of the Champions League quarter final second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Threats of expulsion as UEFA confronts Super League rebel 12

Threats of expulsion as UEFA confronts Super League rebel 12

San Jose Sharks center Patrick Marleau (12) motions to the crowd during a break to mark his passing Gordie Howe for most NHL games played in the first period of an NHL hockey game Monday, April 19, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Sharks’ Marleau breaks Howe’s NHL games played record

Sharks’ Marleau breaks Howe’s NHL games played record

Most Read