Flood Risk Downgraded

“In a few months, we’ll be trying to find water to irrigate the garden.”

– JOHN SNYDER

The rising waters of the Souris River appear to have spared Melita residents, with the expected crest about three feet lower than previously feared.

Two weeks ago, with the provincial flood forecaster predicting a flood to rival that of 1999 due to cumulative snowfall of up to 130 inches in North Dakota, crews were sandbagging along Highway 3 in earnest. Last week, the water, although still rising slightly in recent days, was well short of the dike, but a large field south of the town was filled with swimming ducks.

On April 29, forecasters pushed back the crest to May 4 in Melita, and five days later at Wawanesa. Depending on the weather, it was expected to be a foot to six inches lower than in 1999. No flooded homes were expected along the entire course of the river, the latest update stated.

However, farmers in the valley for about 10 miles both upstream and downstream of the town are unlikely to get onto the land in time for spring seeding, according to Melita Mayor Bob Walker.

“The people who are going to suffer are the farmers in the valley,” he said on Thursday, as a CTV news crew set up their equipment to interview him on the banks of the swollen Souris on the southeast corner of the town.

“They probably won’t get onto the land this summer, even for pasture.”

The United States Geological Survey’s flood-monitoring website showed that river levels at Westhope, just across the border from Melita were still roughly six feet above flood levels, but in recent days the rising trend seemed to have levelled off at 16.20 feet, well short of the record 19.16 reached on April 26, 1976.

Further upstream at the monitoring site at Bantry, North Dakota, the water had fallen a few inches over the past few days. Further still, at Verendrye and Minot, the level had already subsided to well below the flood mark, which indicated that the spring flood risk in the area had long since passed.

Bert Kirkup, who farms 1,200 acres in the Melita area, said that he had about 135 acres under water, and another 350 that were at risk of being flooded.

“Unless the water gets off by the third week of May, it might not get planted this year,” he said, adding that he would start seeding wheat and canola on the high ground in the coming days.

Although last spring was one of the driest on record, the view of the valley from John and Maria Snyder’s front deck resembled a shining sea last week, and John joked that he should start selling lakefront cottage lots.

Mostly retired now, John said that if necessary, he would pump out the 70 acres of cropland that he still farms. Maria’s market garden plots were still high and dry up on the hill.

“In a few months, we’ll be trying to find water to irrigate the garden,” said John. [email protected]

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