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Cost of lowering Lake Manitoba could reach $450 million

The province hopes the federal government will provide financial assistance as outlet channels move forward

The Manitoba government has moved another step closer to beginning construction on new outlet channels for Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin.

Conceptual design options and potential routes for the channels were unveiled at a press conference last week, followed by an open house in Ashern. But officials stressed that there are still nearly three dozen steps that need to be taken before the project can be completed.

“We are moving forward to implement greater flood protection by enhancing Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin outflow capacities as part of the larger flood management system that includes the Portage Diversion and the Fairford River Water Control Structure,” said Steve Ashton, minister of infrastructure and transportation. “Individual property protection, combined with increased drainage capacity of Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin, will greatly improve flood protection in these areas.”

He added that the government is also evaluating the Assiniboine River and Lake Manitoba watersheds to increase flood protection.

But building permanent channels to lower water levels on Lake Manitoba — without flooding Lake St. Martin — won’t be cheap.

Cost estimates now run as high as $450 million, far above the province’s initial estimate of roughly $300 million. The province is hoping the federal government will split the cost of building the channels, as it did with the expansion of the Red River Floodway.

During record water levels in 2011, the province constructed an emergency channel at Lake St. Martin, designed to lower water levels in that lake, as well as in Lake Manitoba. In November of 2012 that channel was closed only to be reopened this summer after heavy rains once again pushed lake levels above flood stage.

That channel would become permanent under the proposed plan, but would require upgrades.

Residents, farmers, cottagers and ranchers around Lake Manitoba have been calling for a speedy reduction in lake levels, but some say the proposed outflows aren’t adequate for the task at hand.

“If you do not have a conceptual design that has flows that are much bigger than between 5,000 and 7,000 cfs it doesn’t help,” said Tom Teichroeb, a cattle producer near Langruth and member of the Lake Manitoba Rehabilitation Committee.

During a one-in-200-year flood, an additional outflow of 7,000 cubic feet per second would lower lake levels by 1.1 feet, something Teichroeb says doesn’t justify the massive cost of the project.

For more information on the proposed designs, visit the Government of Manitoba website.

About the author

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Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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