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Manitoba Flood – Phase Two

Reid Dickie

WHAT A DAY!

After a week of heavy rain and high winds, we have arrived at phase two of the 2011 “high water event” with new flooding in many parts of the province, new states of emergency and new evacuations. Deloraine, Ochre River RM and Miniota RM have all declared states of emergency due to overland flooding, Brandon and several other RMs have extended their states of emergency, Ste Rose du Lac has closed its ring dike against water from the Turtle River for the first time in 25 years, Brandon just received another three-quarters of an inch of rain in 45 minutes this morning, golf-ball size hail pounded southwestern Manitoba today, dozens of roads are closed due to new washouts, inundations stretch more than a kilometer inland from the shore of Lake Manitoba around St. Laurent, the Souris River is rising quickly and residents around much of Lake Manitoba’s south basin have been evacuated while their homes and cottages are eaten away by the rising water. The surging water and waves swamped dikes, tossed debris and even broke some cottages in half on Tuesday. Sixteen people had to be rescued by boat and one resident had to be pulled out by helicopter. Lake Manitoba is still two weeks away from its crest so many residents around the lake probably won’t be able to return to their properties this summer.

Meanwhile, our head-in-the-sand provincial government still pretends that the Portage Diversion, which today is releasing 16,000 cubic feet of water per second into Lake Manitoba, did not cause this vast lakeshore destruction. Manitoba Water Stewardship and their “minister” are claiming the natural flows from the Whitemud and Waterhen Rivers are causing the high water levels in Lake Manitoba, thus the flood is due to “natural causes.” The government’s own water flow numbers don’t support this ridiculous claim. The amount of water supplied to the lake by these two streams is small compared to the Diversion’s contribution. In fact, the outflow from Lake Manitoba is about equal to the inflow of both rivers thus cancelling out their effect. Add in the man-made Portage Diversion and you have current conditions. Politicians unable to tell the truth who spend their day covering their asses abound here now. The NDP faces an election this fall so they will go to any length to shift blame but, unlucky for them, there aren’t any other places where the blame can land except on their heads.

On that note, let me expound a bit on the events at Hoop and Holler Bend last month. First the opening of the dike was touted as essential to save hundreds of properties between Portage and Winnipeg, then it was demoted to a just-in-case measure and then they closed it after a few days when they realized people had caught on to what it was all about. In retrospect Hoop and Holler was nothing more than a desperate publicity stunt to make Selinger look like he saved the province. The puny amounts of water that flowed through the cut made an insignificant difference in the Assiniboine’s flow but caused major inconvenience for the affected properties. Part two of the Hoop and Holler plan was the compensation package where the government appears completely benevolent covering 100% of costs. What a great guy Selinger is, eh? The photo op of Charleton Selinger parting the Red River has been put on a back burner, for now.

As I write this today in Winnipeg, thunderstorms have been passing overhead with some rain and lots of wind tossing the fully-leafed elms around. The unstable weather is predicted to continue into next week over southern Manitoba. We have entered phase two of our flood and approach the heart of darkness.

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Manitoba Flood Update – May 31

Reid Dickie

We’re not out of the woods yet. Keep rubber boots handy.

As I left Brandon yesterday afternoon about 4:30 an ominous black sky promised wild weather ahead. Three miles south of Brandon on Hwy #10 (I came home via Hwy #2) it was raining hammers and nails. I had to pull over several times due to zero visibility, light the hazards and wait out the deluge. The lightning flashed and the thunder roared around me, ditches filled, fields turned into lakes again just like earlier in the spring. It was a classic prairie storm that the ancient Brandon Hills took with a small sigh and tried to absorb.

Manitoba is saturated. After last year’s wet summer and fall, the ground is unable to absorb any more moisture. Heavy rains like this one damage seeded crops and hamper seeding efforts. Every region is behind in seeding this spring. The central part of the province has 50 to 60% seeded, the eastern region between 25 and 40 percent of cereal crops are seeded and in southwestern Manitoba farmers have managed just 10% of the seeding so far this year, according to the latest crop report from Manitoba Agriculture.

Rainfall amounts varied yesterday but some were substantial: Souris received 88 mm/3.5 inches, Boissevain 64 mm/2.5 inches and Brandon 53 mm/2.25 inches. The headwaters of the Assiniboine also received heavy rains this week. Manitoba Water Stewardship is predicting an increase of at least 2 feet in the Assiniboine over the next week because of the new water.  Sioux Valley First Nation have begun new evacuations. 

Today most of the southern part of Manitoba, including the major lakes, is under a wind warning with gusts up to 90 kmh with showers in most areas. This is putting extra stress on dikes and on emergency crews in Brandon. Minor breaches are occurring but so far the pumps have managed to stay ahead of the leaks.

Wind-driven water in the lakes including Lake Manitoba, Dauphin Lake, the Shoal Lakes is washing on land and many properties are inundated. Hundreds of people around Lake Manitoba and area are now on mandatory evacuation. How much new overland flooding will result from the rain and wind will be better understood by the weekend.

Elsewhere the Grand Valley west of Brandon, though still heavy with water, hasn`t overflowed the Trans Canada Highway. Spruce Woods Provincial Park remains closed but for a few of the high ground camping spots and yurts. All aspects of the park remain off-limits or inaccessible, Hwy 5 is still closed so camping access is via Steel`s Ferry Road off Hwy 2.

Overall, we are getting exactly what we don’t need this week – more water and high winds. Depending on the flows, precipitation and winds over the next few days, the status of our flood situation  may change drastically. Stay tuned.

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Faces of the Flood

A series of photographs of people’s faces as they deal with Manitoba’s flood. Click pics to enlarge.

Matt Janzen reaches across his 5 foot dike to hand his 2 year old daughter Kaitlyn to his wife Melanie at their home just outside Elie, Manitoba Thursday.  The family have one of the lowest homes in the community and will have to leave the dike in place for a minimum of 6 weeks.  May 12, 2011. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Members of 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry help load sandbags onto helicopter slings to be transported to weak sections of the dike running along the Assiniboine River 25 km from Portage La Prairie, Man. Thursday, May 12, 2011.   (The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward)

Mexican migrant workers sandbag the home of Jeff Connery near Hoop and Holler Bend, Manitoba.  May 11, 2011. (Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press)

Members of 2 PPCLI  Shilo reinforce a dike on the Assiniboine River off Hwy 430, north of Oakville, MB Thursday.  May 12, 2011. (Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press)

There was no shortage of help on the James Valley Colony Wednesday as everyone, including young girls, helped pitch in to move sandbags to dikes being built around their colony. May 11, 2011. (Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press)

Flood relief workers at Breezy Point April 8, 2011 (Photograph by Stan Milosevic)

Members of the Canadian Forces carry sandbags to a home located close to the Hoop and Holler Bend near Portage La Prairie, Man, Thursday, May 12, 2011. (The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward)

 

John Bray does last minute sandbagging at his father’s home near Oakville, Manitoba Thursday morning while his dog Lucky keeps an eye out. Their home is next to the Elm River.  May 12, 2011. (Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press)

Friends, family and volunteers sandbag a home on Cloutier Drive near the Red River in St. Norbert. April 9, 2011 (Photograph by Stan Milosevic)

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My Favourite Flood Picture

Dave Barnes, with his dog Jack, looks over the expanse of flood water covering his property in Brandon’s east-end. Friends and volunteers helped Barnes surround his home with sandbags and protect it from the surging Assiniboine River. This poignant photo of dog and master sharing an anxious moment was taken by Brandon Sun photog Colin Corneau on May 11, 2011. I highly recommend Colin’s fascinating collection of black and white Brandon photographs here.

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Manitoba Flood Update – Monday May 23

Reid Dickie

The heavy rains that fell Saturday are making their way through the river system causing some concern and slowing the water’s decline in most places along the Assiniboine. The major concern is about inflow from the Souris and Qu’ Appelle Rivers and how it will affect dikes and drainage downstream. In Brandon, where river levels have been dropping about 6 inches a day, the decrease was minimal yesterday and today due to the rains.

Since the water diverted north from the Assiniboine into Lake Manitoba has to go somewhere, it is causing major flooding around the shores of the lake and residents are still scrambling to protect or evacuate their properties. Today many of the best cattle producers in Manitoba, six First Nations and dozens of cottages around Lake Manitoba are flooded due to dumping more water than the lake can accommodate. Lake Manitoba’s outflow at Fairford is totally unable to handle the inflow from the Diversion thus producing scenes like this.

Some Manitobans are accusing the provincial government of reckless abandon for mismanaging the flood situation then off-loading blame onto bureaucrats and generally acting like clueless idiots. The government even took out half-page newspaper ads last week to shuffle blame away from themselves. The Black Rod wrote a fine piece this week about Premier Selinger that sums up his self-inflicted and well-deserved dilemma. Read it here.

The provincial state of emergency has been extended until June 5 “to support continued flood responses around the Portage la Prairie area” as stated yesterday by Manitoba Water Stewardship. It’s the newly flooded properties around Lake Manitoba that need sandbags and the troops right now. It was reported last week that today would be the last day the military would be involved with the flood fight, just when they are needed most around the lake! Whether that is actually the case remains unknown at this time.

The provincial government will announce its compensation package for flood victims tomorrow. Also tomorrow I will have a new update on the flooding at Spruce Woods Provincial Park and the prospects for opening the park this year.

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The Flood, The Rapture and My Blogging Life

Reid Dickie

The last two weeks have been a blast for me due to unexpectedly high numbers of people checking out ReadReidRead. Starting May 9, when I blogged about Manitoba’s flood, especially around Brandon and Spruce Woods Park, my hits went from about 100 a day to averaging 800 a day today. My keywords and tags got me noticed, I showed up often on Page 1 of Google, a few times as the first entry and my blogging dream started to evolve. I learned an enormous amount about blogging this month, especially about getting people to come back. Daily updates and great pictures kept you returning. Floods are incredibly photogenic with plenty of ironic possibilities and quality pictures are easy to find. My best day since I started blogging last December was at the high point of the flood, Thursday, May 12 when I got 935 hits! Amazing!

During this, several people asked why I was so interested in Brandon? It is the city of my birth though I grew up in a small town about a hour away. I’ve always had relatives in Brandon whom I’ve visited all my life and still do. My second radio job was in Brandon when I did the all-night show on CKX from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. for 23 months in the early 1970s. The radio station no longer exists. I like Brandon though it is growing much too quickly and is under development duress. Plus it has about 100 too many stoplights!

Additionally, for my blogging needs, Brandon has two excellent media outlets. CKLQ Radio 880 carried the daily briefings of Brandon flood officials live at 10:30 and 4. Hearing the voices of the emergency coordinator and the mayor regularily in these briefings, I started to recognize the level of stress the city was under in their voices. Tension and uncertainty held them in sway for over a week but the past few days there is a more relaxed tone though they are still working hard to make the flood easier for everyone, especially the 1400 people evacuated from their homes in The Flats. I have developed great respect for Brian Kayes, the city’s emergency measures coordinator, and Brandon’s new mayor, Shari Decter Hirst. Brandon is lucky to have competent and caring people in charge of their “high water event.” The other outlet that kept me up to speed is the Brandon Sun who always have great pictures and reports from around the region.

In the past few days the irresistable opportunity of blogging about The Rapture was tossed in my lap. Ah, the stuff bloggers love to write about! Friday and yesterday plenty of people went searching for info on the end of the world, which was my most searched tag on those days resulting in my second best day ever yesterday on Saturday May 21 when I got 883 hits.

This blogger is well aware of the irony and absurdity of getting massive hits from people going in search of the end of the world, as if anyone would notice it ended unless it was reported on TV. The flood is harder to have fun with but easier to express my true feelings of concern for people and the land. I enjoyed shining a light on the mainly incompetent efforts of the province’s “flood managers” who seemed afraid to get their feet wet from the premier on down.

I am humbled and exhilerated by your response to my blog. Thank you, readers.

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Manitoba Flood Update – Saturday

Reid Dickie

This weekend we are getting what we need least – rain. About 30 to 50 mm is to fall in southern Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan, the area covered by the Assiniboine watershed. Although water levels are decreasing somewhat – 6 inches in the last 24 hours in Brandon – the dikes, already under great stress, will be tested by this new water. The Corral Centre and Paddock malls in Brandon will reopen Tuesday, May 24, God willing and the creek don’t rise.

Further east the cut in the dike at Hoop and Holler Bend was closed and Selinger Lake is slowly draining away without giving us any real clues on what’s it purpose actually was. The spin on the intentional flooding changes daily and has gone from being the saviour of the province to having a gee, maybe, we don’t need this aspect. I’m keen to see what they’ve come up with today in the latest bulletin from Manitoba Water Stewardship out later.

Yesterday the Portage Diversion was filled to the brim with water almost reaching both the bridges on the TCH that span the Diversion. Work was continuing raising and shoring up the dikes. Lake Manitoba, the recipient of the Diversion water, is experiencing flooding along its shores with people scrambling to save their properties. Dauphin Lake is spilling over farmland and cottage areas.

While there are signs of improvement and officials appear a little more relaxed, vigilance is being maintained. The wild card is this weekend’s rain – how much, where and will the dikes hold? Stay tuned.

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Manitoba Flood Update – Wednesday, May 18

Reid Dickie

This is one of my favourite pictures of the thousands taken of Manitoba`s “high water event” as our flood is euphemistically known among disaster bureaucrats. The picture was taken in the Corral Centre shopping mall in Brandon, now closed and virtually deserted for over a week. How hopeful to see it still doesn`t take long for Nature to begin reclaiming the results of our folly.

The Assiniboine dropped 10 inches at Brandon since this time yesterday prompting guarded optimism among local flood officials. In some places in east Brandon, the aqua dams are being removed from the tops of the dikes as water levels subside.  The freeboard is now unnecessary.

The 1400 Brandon evacuees and the 120 local businesses, closed due to flood risk, will be waiting, at least, into June to return to normal. One north-bound lane of First Street has been reopened through the flood plain.

Downstream the Portage Diversion still carries an enormous amount of water from the Assiniboine north into Lake Manitoba. Since the Diversion has been diked and re-diked over the past few weeks in order to carry greater flow, in fact burdened with water levels it was never designed to accommodate, the dikes are now beginning to deteriorate. Tonight Manitoba Water Stewardship is deeply concerned about the integrity of the Diversion dikes and potential for widespread flooding along its route to Lake Manitoba.

Meanwhile, predictably, residents along the Lake Manitoba shore are feeling the brunt of all this new water from the Assiniboine and scrambling to evacuate or sandbag their properties. This picture is of Peter Bradley in his front yard at Twin Beach on the Lake Manitoba shore.

Beyond Portage the intentional flooding from a cut in the dike at Hoop and Holler Bend is now being spun as a just-in-case scenario, trying to justify the miniscule flows which haven`t gone above 400 cfs (cubic feet per second), a piddly amount in the Assiniboine`s massive volume. Selinger Lake continues to creep across the land aimlessly searching for some real purpose, some suggestion of reason. Maybe when it communes with Elm River and the La Salle River then seeks the wisdom of the mighty Red River, perhaps by then the piddles from Hoop and Holler Bend will finally find enlightenment.

We are chasing the water north, getting it into Hudson Bay as quick as we can. We are in control. What a delicious delusion that public officials conjure for a gullible populace!

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Spruce Woods Provincial Park Manitoba Flood Update – Friday May 13, 2011

Reid Dickie

The Assiniboine River runs through Spruce Woods Provincial Park and not only has its flooding closed the park indefinitely, Highway #5 which runs through the park is closed between Glenboro and Carberry. Water is over the road and some of the highway is washed out. The lower areas of the Spirit Sands and Marsh Lake are water covered and there is more on the way.

The lower campground at Kiche Manitou campground in Spruce Woods Park is under several feet of water and all buildings have been severely damaged. Yurts are on high ground and unaffected by flooding. Manitoba Conservation is hoping to re-open the park to camping in the lower campground by the end of July! That’s right, the end of July! Some aspects of the park are expected to open in mid-June but there is an enormous amount of water to move first. Many provincial parks are affected by flooding. Check here for updates on campground closures and delayed openings.

In Brandon, the dikes are under heavy maintenance, another foot is being added to most of the dikes as water flows are expected to increase. Saskatchewan has had heavy rains and the Qu’Appelle River, which drains into the Assiniboine at St. Lazare, MB, is swollen. Everything downstream from there is under flood watch. The final stores have closed in the Corral Centre and Paddock. The last evacuees are expected to be gone by this evening and the city waits. The crest, once thought imminent, is now predicted for the middle of next week. The Saskatchewan rains and subsequent surges are making crest predictions extremely difficult. One certainty from Manitoba Water Stewardship is to expect higher than predicted crest levels along the Assiniboine. This announcement resulted in the new endeavours to raise Brandon`s dikes by at least a foot.

At Portage the military is working to raise the Portage Diversion to move more river water into Lake Manitoba to the north. Tonight there is more water in the Portage Diversion than in the Red River Floodway around Winnipeg! The Trans Canada Highway remains open today through Grand Valley west of Brandon where the ditches are being re-enforced with stones. Structurally the two bridges that span the river at Grand Valley are sound and uncompromised by the rising river.

The proposed “controlled” breach at Hoop and Holler Bend has been delayed again, now scheduled for early Saturday. There are 122 provincial roads affected by flooding, 73 closed. There are approximately 750 municipal roads closed. Though Brandon is predicted to get a little wet snow tonight, the forecast for the Assiniboine region including its headwaters in Saskatchewan is for clear sunny days ahead with no precipitation for a week. That would help immensely!

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