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Lingering effects of flood waters not covered by compensation

Repeated flooding along the Portage Diversion has some producers wondering 
how they will keep their businesses afloat

Kevin Yuill has land on both sides of the diversion channel.

For farmers along the Portage Diversion it’s déjà vu all over again — again.

“This is three times in four years for us — a person doesn’t have fun when that kind of flooding is going on,” said Kevin Yuill, who has land on both sides of the diversion channel, which begins just west of Portage la Prairie.

That kind of flooding also doesn’t allow for much farming.

“We’ve lost so much already,” said Mark Peters, taking a brief break from sandbagging his home. “At this point we’ve lost 400 acres of hay ground that was all newly seeded.”

Newly seeded because the same land was also flooded in 2011, during what was then referred to as a one-in-300-year occurrence. Flood waters lingered through 2012 and Peters and others in the area were only able to reseed in 2013.

“And now it’s all lost again — so I’m really beginning to give up,” he said. “Next year will be too wet again, so it’s going to be another three-year loss, and it will be a total of six years… I can’t keep going like this.”

What irks most farmers along the diversion is that the flooding they’re experiencing is deliberate, done to save communities downstream, including the City of Winnipeg.

And while they understand that sacrifices need to be made to protect people from flood waters, they also expect to be compensated by government.

“I haven’t been compensated fairly for 2011 and not gotten a single dollar for 2012,” said Yuill. “And I’m not holding my breath… we’ll be out over a quarter of a million dollars now.”

Most programs aimed at flood and disaster recovery are cost shared between the federal and provincial governments, including programs like AgriRecovery. However, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has previously indicated that “AgriRecovery is not intended to pay for the same event more than once” and that it “was never intended to provide long-term compensation for situations that have affected the production capacity of a region for extended periods.”

In April of 2013, a group of angry farmers including Yuill temporarily blocked the Portage Diversion spillway with tractors in protest, demanding a meeting with Manitoba’s Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton and flood officials.

“We never did meet with them,” said Yuill, adding he did have an opportunity to speak briefly with Ashton later on, following a press conference.

Peters said he was compensated for 2011, but like his neighbours is still seeking compensation for 2012 and 2013.

He’s also urging the province to better maintain the diversion channel.

While the province has shored up and reinforced channel walls along the outlet, Peters said overgrown sections along the rest of the channel have decreased its depth by allowing silt to accumulate.

Built with an intended capacity of 25,000 cubic feet of water per second, the Portage Diversion is now seeing flows of 34,000 cubic feet per second in order to ease pressure on the flooding Assiniboine River.

But once the crests are past and the emergency subsides, farmers along the diversion will have to see what they can salvage and examine their options.

“I’ll put it this way, we haven’t met with our lawyer yet, but there’s no question — we’re planning legal action, we don’t have any choice because these clowns won’t come to the table and come up with anything realistic,” said Yuill.

Both Yuill and Peters would also like to see city-dwellers get on board, and help farmers apply the political pressure needed to get compensation for flooding primarily aimed at protecting those who live in Winnipeg.

Public comments made by some indicating that producers should stop farming in “flood plains” have been particularly frustrating and counterproductive, said Peters.

“We weren’t living in a flood plain until the diversion was built,” he said.

About the author

Reporter

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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