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Manitoba Flood Update – Monday May 16, 2011

Reid Dickie

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.

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Flood Update – Friday evening

       Reid Dickie

Looking and sounding very much like a nervous first time pro-side debater on the junior high debating team, Manitoba’s premier popped into supper hour tonight to blink and jaw about the hard decisions he’s making these days. Like calling in the military and opening a vein of the Assiniboine to purposely flood at least 250 square kms of farms, towns and everything else in the way. He calls this a controlled breach, necessary to prevent an uncontrolled breach which would be much worse. Really? The premier is spraying us with plenty of absolutes about this but doesn’t sound very convincing. He said he’s so darn sure of this because the decision was unanimous among officials. I hope some of these officials are engineers and hydrologists familiar with the territory and not all backroom party hacks gambling with people’s lives for a few votes and, if they can spin it, saviour status.

       The premier’s McGuffin here is he wants to control something so by applying typical political hubris, a well-honed albatross from last century, he separates Nature from everything and picks a river. Bad move. Let’s look at this thing the little man wishes to control.

The Assiniboine River is old and pissed off. It has flowed for at least 10,000 years since the glaciers melted. As the Ice Age ended, the Assiniboine was a major drainway for the meltwater. Five times deeper than it is now with the entire valley, which in places is three miles across, filled to the brim with water, it raged and surged; over the course of a few hundred miles reducing sandstone boulders the size of two-storey houses to fine red sand and depositing it in a massive delta, a tiny fraction of which we now call Spirit Sands. Prone to eating the occasional gazebo for lunch, as above, the mighty Assiniboine is a wild and vengeful river, highly resentful of its damming at Shellmouth and, with its accomplices the Qu’ Appelle, the Little Saskatchewan and the Souris, comes seeking watery justice.

        For the engineers and pols to think they have control over this river is dangerously displaced denial, hubris of the highest order and arrogance of the lowest. One misstep and the flow goes from 500 cfs (cubic feet per second) to 10,000 cfs and beyond. At that point there is no turning back, no amount of backhoes and dumptrucks full of stones can stop that, denial dies, the con side of the debate wins and the old river has revenge. Unless he gets cold feets again, the premier says the controlled breach will occur at 6 a.m. Saturday. Just a reminder, Mr. Premier, Nature bats last.

           Elsewhere, it is now starting to sink in with Brandonites how long their flood will last. The crest will be another week, peak levels persist for at least three days then the long slow process of water subsiding. Weeks from now the 1350 evacuees could still be displaced; major shopping malls could still be closed. The river is setting the timetable on this one. 

       Meanwhile the City of Brandon is holding social events for evacuees, offering them babysitting and laundry services, generally making the people they kicked out their at-risk homes feel as comfortable as possible. The caring and compassion of Mayor Shari Decter Hirst is evident in this.

I’m repeating this picture for a reason. The traffic light is on 18th Street. The river is just behind the triple tiered dike and now comes almost to the top of the second tier. There is enormous pressure from the river against the dike. If this dike along 18th wasn’t there, the street, shopping malls, school and residential area west of it would all be under eight feet of water.

 The Eighteen Street dike is the first obstacle the Assiniboine encounters as it approaches Brandon from the west. As it flows through the city, the next obstacle, besides the miles of dikes along its banks, is First Street, heavily diked and still closed. First and Eighteen are the bottlenecks that determine the flow and stress of the river as each has just one bridge to allow water to cross. Beyond First, the final obstacle before the river surges free eastward is Highway 110, a hazardous goods and heavy truck bypass from the TCH to Highway 10 that enters the city from the south. This aerial picture of Hwy 110 shows the single lane of heavy truck traffic being piloted between the dikes. Treacherous and closed for a few days earlier this week, Hwy 110 is now open to heavy trucks only. An extra long bridge allows the river to flow under the highway but there have been calls to drain the water through Brandon quicker by letting 110 flood. Since many of the heavy trucks deliver live fodder to the Maple Leaf slaughterhouse, handily located right next to the bypass, it’s unlikely 110 will be closed or sacrificed. Downstream must also be considered. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.

       Another report late Saturday afternoon. Have a great weekend. Reid

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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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