Deliberate flood stopped as water levels drop

Dropping water levels in the Assiniboine River have allowed crews to fill in a dike and stop the intentional flooding of a swath of agricultural land in southern Manitoba.

WINNIPEG — Dropping water levels in the Assiniboine River have allowed crews to fill in a dike and stop the intentional flooding of a swath of agricultural land in southern Manitoba.

The province began the work at noon Friday and the man-made hole was closed up several hours later.

“Our professionals indicated that the declines in flows though the Portage Diversion would allow the dikes and the diversion to hold the water,” said Premier Greg Selinger. “Subject to any other surprises that we might see, they thought they could close it, at least on a temporary basis.”

But people forced from their homes in the region were still not able to go back and the dike could be reopened, Selinger said. There was still tremendous pressure on the river system and a rainstorm expected in the next few days could change the situation.

“There is a very good prospect we won’t have to open it again,” Selinger said following a ceremony at which he thanked the Canadian military for its help in the flood fight.

“But we have to keep vigilant because we know there is a very serious weather event that is going to bring a lot of rain into the Souris River which will probably create additional pressure.”

The dike was cut last weekend to release some of the pressure from the swollen river and avoid a potential flood of hundreds of homes downstream. The flow was initially expected to surround about 150 homes and flood over 200 square kilometres, prompting frantic sandbagging and the use of hundreds of Canadian Forces troops.

But the cut proved far less damaging than first feared. While the province warned it might have to release up to 3,000 cubic feet of water per second through the dike, the flow remained about one-eighth that.

Only 3.4 square kilometres were affected and three homes were surrounded by water, but the province said there had been no damage to them.

Closing the dike is the first step to getting life back to normal in the region, Selinger said.

“It’s a big step forward to get it closed right now,” he said. “It allows us to start normalizing conditions.”

It was good news for Shae Doherty. The owner of Our Farm greenhouse near the Hoop and Holler bend where the dike was breached has been on edge for weeks, wondering if the deliberate flood would damage his home and destroy his livelihood.

“In one way, I’m really excited that they’re closing it so the water is not going to be on my property anymore,” he said Friday.

“On the other hand, I’m disappointed that they had to open it because my traffic has to come around a long way to the greenhouse.”

And while his greenhouse was safe, protected behind piles of sandbags, Doherty said the rest of his land was under 1.5 metres of water in some areas.

“Hopefully it will start to dry up,” he said. “But the water is already on my property and I’ve lost that land It’s going to sit there for quite a while . . . It’s good that I’m able to move the product in the greenhouse but at the same time, once the greenhouse is finished, my vegetable crops, which I normally plant out there — it’s going to be a bit of a tangle.”

The province has come under fire for its decision to cut the dike in the first place.

But Selinger has said the move took pressure off the waterway and gave troops a chance to strengthen and build up dikes farther along the river.

A compensation package that will reimburse affected homeowners over and above regular disaster relief assistance is in the works.

The Assiniboine River is experiencing a “one-in-300-year” flood, officials say. But the worst appears to be over now that it has crested at virtually all points along the watershed.

Since the flood season began in April, more than 3,600 people have been forced out of their homes across the province. Most of them were moved off aboriginal reserves as a precaution because the water was washing over roads.

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