Tom Teichroeb was busy last week moving the last few cattle off his flooded farm near the shores of Lake Manitoba. When he’s done, he’ll move his family out, too.
Teichroeb, his wife and two young daughters had rented a house in town and were moving in furniture when shifting flood waters would let them. Last week his home was accessible only by four-wheel-drive tractor. Soon the family will not be able to reach the farm, much less the house. They’ll be out for weeks, perhaps longer.
That was uppermost in Teichroeb’s mind when, fighting emotion, he stood in front of a hastily organized meeting of similarly affected homeowners and appealed to the provincial government to take over.
“Buy me out and let me continue my life,” he pleaded.
Record flooding around Lake Manitoba this spring has disrupted many other lives besides Teichroeb’s. One by one, local residents, many of them in tears, filed to the microphone to tell stories of damaged homes, destroyed cottages and livelihoods lost to high water levels.
“I used to live in Twin Beaches. Now I don’t know where I live,” said Gary Grubert, whose cottage was one of hundreds lashed by high waves whipped up by a windstorm only the day before.
Anger and emotion were high among nearly 300 farmers, cottagers and First Nations residents who packed a local community hall June 1 to vent their feelings and demand help.
Their frustration was aimed largely at the provincial government for funnelling water through the Portage Diversion into Lake Manitoba and adding to their flooding woes.
Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives Minister Stan Struthers was on the hot seat as residents demanded to know what the province will do to alleviate the situation.
“The diversion is the cause of our dilemma,” said Randy Helgason, a councillor from the Rural Municipality of Siglunes.
The diversion channels water from the Assiniboine River near Portage la Prairie northward into Lake Manitoba, easing the flood threat to communities downstream. Unprecedented spring flooding on the Assiniboine this year is diverting water far above the diversion’s normal capacity.
Lake Manitoba has two natural inflow sources – the Whitemud and Waterhen rivers – and one natural outflow: the Fairford River. Gordon Goldsborough, a University of Manitoba biologist who studies the lake, told the meeting the total inflow from the two rivers that day was exactly the same as the outflow: 16,600 cubic feet per second. The reason why lake levels are rising has to be the diversion, said Goldsborough.
“It stands to reason that the diversion is having an impact,” he said.
Lake Manitoba is not expected to crest until mid-June. The province is forecasting a peak of 815.5 feet above sea level, the highest since the flood of 1955.
Struthers, the only provincial cabinet minister at the meeting, agreed the diversion adds to the problem and that a bigger outflow at Fairford is needed.
But he insisted a total watershed management approach is necessary to deal with chronic flooding in Manitoba.
“We’ve got to get past dumping water on to our neighbours. We’ve got to get past asking one Manitoban to take it in the neck for the other,” Struthers said.
The government last month announced a $176-million plan to strengthen flood control measures throughout the province. The program includes compensation for flood damage to Lake Manitoba cottages and permanent residences, as well as assistance for flooded livestock producers.
Premier Greg Selinger said increasing the outflow of water from the lake is a priority for his government.
“We’re going to take a very serious look at what we can do on the upper end of the lake to allow more water to go out,” Selinger told a news conference in Winnipeg last week.
But many at the Langruth meeting continued to blame the province for making a man-made flood out of a natural disaster by deliberately flowing more water into Lake Manitoba than it can handle.
“We need an apology,” said JoAnn Egilson, a local social worker. “When people are critically harmed under your care, you apologize whether it was your fault or not.” [email protected]
– RANDY HELGASON, RM OF SIGLUNES