The province’s apparent decision to make 2011 Lake Manitoba flood levels the new standard has raised the ire of area ranchers and municipal officials.
“It’s fine for Mr. Topping to hope that we will raise our cottages and homes up to levels that would be safe in another flood. But we can’t raise the farm- and ranchland. When it’s flooded it takes a lot for it to become unflooded,” said reeve of Lakeview Philip Thordarson.
A letter dated March 22 from Steve Topping, executive director of hydrologic forecasting and water management, stated that the former 100-year flood level is outdated, and the new standard will reflect levels reached during the 2011 flood, as well as the effects of high winds.
“Therefore, the standard that will now be used on Lake Manitoba is the 2011 flood,” he wrote, in a letter addressed to the RM of Lakeview.
Thordarson fired back a letter to Topping, stating that the RM “strongly rejects” making 2011 flood levels the new standard.
He added that those levels were the result of “man-made flooding” caused by the Portage Diversion, and that the only solution is a channel to increase outflow from the lake.
“Until this channel is achieved along with proper management, Lake Manitoba is only one major weather event away from another disaster,” he stated.
In a followup interview, he questioned whether Topping hadn’t jumped the gun on the new flood level peg, noting that a Lake Manitoba Regulation Review Committee is currently consulting with landowners about their opinions on what the flood level should be.
“I can’t help but wonder if he’s been acting on his own,” said Thordarson. “It should be an embarrassment to the government.”
Topping, for his part, said that the new flood peg at 2011 levels is an “interim” standard for use in zoning new and rebuilt homes and cottages, and may be revised in certain areas once the review committee finishes its work.
“They may very well recommend a lower range,” said Topping.
Area residents are demanding that a new channel for regulating lake flows be dug following a natural run on Crown land from Watchorn Bay on Lake Manitoba to Lake St. Martin.
They say that such a structure could be used to prevent damage to both residences and farmland when the Portage Diversion is used to divert flood waters on the Assiniboine and Souris rivers away from areas farther downstream.
“It wouldn’t require a lot of expense,” said Thordarson. “I can’t understand why they won’t look at that.”
Topping said that the independent 2011 flood review now underway will look at all options for mitigating future flooding, including a parallel or companion channel to go with the existing structure at Fairford.
“Maybe the studies will recommend improved outlet capacity on Lake Manitoba. Maybe they’ll recommend more water retention in the Assiniboine basin,” said Topping. “I can’t specify where that will go at this time.”
He added that pegging new flood protection levels at the latest high water mark is standard practice, noting that it was done after major floods on the Red River in past years.
“This is something that needs to be studied as to what can be achieved, and what would be the optimum level of Lake Manitoba,” he said.