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!
“Right now we are measuring hope and progress in inches.”
That word comes from Brandon’s ever-quotable mayor Shari Decter Hirst at this morning’s media briefing after Assiniboine River levels dropped eight inches since Monday. The flood crest is occurring now in Brandon, the dikes are holding though still monitored 24/7 and any breaches so far have been small and manageable. Though the week has been sunny and warm there is a day or two of rain coming over the weekend which could complicate the event depending on duration and amount. Otherwise, city officials are struggling to control a sewage lift plant that is experiencing leakage of river water.
The picture above is an aerial view of Kasiurak Bay off Kirkcaldy Drive north of the river. The dike along the left side is topped with an aqua dam.
The bad news today for Brandon’s 1350 evacuees is they will not be returning to their homes before the end of May and likely much longer. This also applies to business evacuated due to flood risk.
I will report on flood conditions in Brandon and Portage Wednesday evening.
Brandon is holding its breath tonight. The crest of the Assiniboine reached the Wheat City today and will maintain high water levels there for at least three days before any reduction begins. Thereafter it will take weeks, possibly months for the water to subside followed by massive clean ups. Brandon`s elaborate and constantly maintained dike system is still in good shape with about 20 small breaches in the past day. All were repaired. Residents north of the river in the valley remain on alert, listening for emergency evacuation sirens.
Brandon`s mayor Shari Decter Hirst and councillors, who today extended the local state of emergency for two more weeks, visited with evacuees in various hotels around the city where about 700 are lodged. The other 700 or so are staying with family and friends. Free entertainment, child-minding, laundry and psychological support are being offered to evacuees by Brandon city services. Mayor Decter Hirst, who had an enormous number of nay-sayers against her when she was elected last fall, is being viewed as a caring, conscientious and sincere public servant who knows what to do. Her personal charm and fresh savvy are a lucky break for Brandon.
Reports downstream from the Shellmouth Dam support the notion the Assiniboine has crested once and for all. The situation remains precarious with any new precipitation a serious threat. No rain is forecast for the river`s basin and headwaters for the rest of this week and no new water is expected to enter the river.
West of Portage, the newly heightened Diversion is carrying enormous amounts of water into Lake Manitoba. Shore residents are bracing for the flood that follows increased water levels in the big lake. Selinger Lake continues its spread across farmland and gravel roads east of Portage tonight, the first waters of the drain now reaching Elm River, eventually entering the Red River past the Floodway entrance. This thin film of septic/chemical soup hasn`t washed away any buildings and the military keeps an eye on the leading edge of the water. You can walk faster than the spread of the intentional flood waters.
One tidbit of information conveniently misplaced is the reason why a mere 400 cfs (cubic feet per second) of water flowing through the Hoop and Holler Bend breach makes anything other than a negligible difference in the Assiniboine River which is, by the estimates of Manitoba Water Stewardship, flowing at about 32,000 cfs. The flow through the intentional cut seems small, a drop in a very large bucket. Maybe this is all just optics with the political bottom line: Winnipeg is still safe tonight.
The Trans Canada Highway remains open at Grand Valley with no road flooding reported. There are 113 provincial roads affected by flooding, with 67 closed. Approximately 768 municipal roads are closed. Here is the map of road conditions and closures in Manitoba. My next report will be Tuesday evening.
“We’re not relaxing on this!”
Those words were used by Brandon’s emergency management director, Brian Kayes, to end off this afternoon’s media briefing. His comment indicates the dike building phase has ended and the dike management phase has begun but it’s not time to feel comfortable yet. The crest needs to pass and it could be a prolonged peak. The water needs to drain away and Brandon is weeks away from that.
Miles of dikes – earthen, rock, super sandbags and aqua dams – have been built along the Assiniboine River and they are holding for now. The dike management phase means every inch of dike is inspected at least once an hour. Breaches, no matter how small, seepage and spillage are all cause for further action. Pumps are operating fulltime at some locations, crews give their attention 24/7 to every threat. About two feet of freeboard remains through most of the diking system so there is some wiggle room for high winds.
At the morning briefing, Mayor Shari Decter Hirst stated, “Don’t come to Brandon,” but her context wasn’t clear enough. I can imagine the phone calls she received from some of the business leaders about discouraging people to shop Brandon. This afternoon, the mayor clarified her statement by saying she meant stay away from the river but come to Brandon, shop the areas not in the flood risk zone. She prefaced her clarification by saying she really stepped in it and needed to wedge the high heel out of her mouth. Her self-effacing charm and honest community concern under duress combined with the steady, competent and cheerful Brian Kayes make Brandon lucky to have such a team to manage their crisis. The team is open, helpful, transparent, honest if they don’t know an answer and are applying skilful means to a dangerous situation. They are to be commended.
Tonight there is an eerie disquiet in the city of my birth. Over 40,000 people have seen the water snarl their streets, their lives, their commerce, their movement and their dreams. Comfort feels miles away tonight. Much closer, more ominous is the muscular surge against dike, the yearning and demanding water fulfilling its dreams.
“Don’t Come to Brandon.”
The Assiniboine River continues to threaten cities, towns and farmland in Manitoba today. The river level at Brandon increased about 3 inches overnight and forecasters estimate the crest of the flow is near. Though the rain has stopped, the weather is quite windy, not ideal. Some good news this morning: no further rain is expected in Brandon for the rest of the week although rain is predicted further north. So far, over 1200 residents have been evacuated south of the river but people on the north side still remain in their homes. According to Brandon flood officials at their morning briefing, nearly all the sandbagging and diking is done. They now are in a state of maintenance, watching for seepage and breaches. The Brandon bypass – Hwy 110 – may be opened to piloted heavy commercial vehicles only today; First Street remains closed but Operations is hopeful it may reopen on the weekend; all lanes of 18th Street may open to traffic today. This sounds promising but the Assiniboine may have other plans.
Brandon’s mayor, Shari Decter Hirst, stated that, though everything looks calm and under control, the city is in the eye of the storm now, waiting to see what the river will do next. She emphasized that it’s not over yet so don’t get complacent. “We don’t need tourists,” the mayor said. “Don’t come to Brandon to gawk at our hardship. We don’t need anyone doing that. Brandon is in a state of emergency. Respect that.” Since most of the evacuees are lodged in Brandon hotels, there are no rooms available to stay in anyway. The Corral Centre remains closed. The mayor again commended the “everyday heroes” who have worked to save the city.
“Controlled” release set for Thursday
Manitoba Water Stewardship announced today the “controlled” release of river water just east of Portage la Prairie is scheduled for Thursday morning at 8 a.m. The intent is to drain some of the Assiniboine into the La Salle River watershed so it will empty into the Red River south of the floodway. Residents of the 150 mostly farm homes affected by the release are evacuating today while military personnel build dikes around their properties. The “controlled” release is preferable to an uncontrolled release which would have unpredictable results. I don’t know how big a gamble this release actually is for the government or how firm their predictability is but I am compelled to reprint poet Gary Snyder’s caution: “It is not nature-as-chaos which threatens us but the State’s presumption that it has created order.” Here is a map of the area to be intentionally flooded.
The Portage Diversion, which diverts Assiniboine water northward to Lake Manitoba, is being re-enforced, its banks heightened to accommodate greater capacity. Homes along the Diversion are on flood evacuation alert.
Other rivers and lakes
The Red River still cuts a wide swath across southern Manitoba. The Floodway is adequately protecting Winnipeg again as water levels decrease slightly. The Souris River is causing havoc in Melita with levels increasing due to excessive rain this week. Dauphin Lake is at flood stage with heavy precipitation expected there today and tomorrow adding to the woes of cottagers and farmers. Over 600 military personnel are working at various sites along the Assiniboine. The province has requested 300 more.
The waiting is underway big time now in Brandon and communities all along the Assiniboine flood plain. When will the crest arrive? Are we protected? Stay tuned for the answers to those and other watery questions. My next report comes late Wednesday evening.
Provincial government flood information here.
The Assiniboine River still continues to threaten communities along its path although the water level at Brandon was unchanged overnight. Showers and rain coming in from Saskatchewan will give the Assiniboine River basin over 20 mm of water by the weekend, adding to the unpredictability of the river.
At this morning’s media briefing by Brandon flood offficials there were twice as many media people as there were yesterday, denoting the flood’s increasing significance. The briefing confirmed that earth-moving diking will be done by this evening and exisiting dikes will be topped with aqua dams. Evacuations in Brandon stand at about 1000 people. No further evacuations are planned for today. Hazardous materials, such as gasoline at filling stations, in the risk zone have been secured or moved. Brandon awaits its fate.
Despite the fact that the Portage Diversion, which diverts riverwater north into Lake Manitoba, has been running slightly over capacity, the city of Portage la Prairie, east of Brandon, is still under duress due to potential river flooding. Rather than risk uncontrolled breaches of dikes, the Manitoba government is planning a “controlled” breach that would flood an area east of Portage effecting about 150 homes. Evacuation orders are in place for the area with the “controlled” release expected on Wednesday. Although the declared provincial state of emergency allows this action, I caution those making this decision by reminding them of these words from poet Gary Snyder, “It is not nature-as-chaos which threatens us but the State’s presumption that it has created order.”
Word of the day: freeboard meaning “the distance between normal water level and the top of a structure, such as a dam, that impounds or restrains water.”
Manitoba Water Stewardship publishes a daily flood bulletin. Here is today’s. The next briefing from Brandon officials is at 4 this afternoon. More from me thereafter. My heart goes out to those living in Brandon, Portage and the surrounding area. Stress and uncertainty must be overwhelming for many. Know you are in our hearts and prayers. Be brave, be strong.