Residents say province’s bid to protect Winnipeg by diverting water into Lake Manitoba greatly increased the damage they suffered
A group of frustrated Lake Manitoba residents is suing the province for $260 million for what they say was the artificial flooding of their homes, cottages and property in 2011.
“That was a man-made flood, and it was a government decision that caused it,” said Fred Pisclevich, one of the plaintiffs hoping the lawsuit will be certified as a class action by Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench.
The Twin Lakes Beach resident saw his house destroyed in the spring of 2011 as lake levels rose to record heights and said the offer the province made him wouldn’t even begin to rebuild his home of 10 years.
Now the 69-year-old and his wife are searching for homes in Winnipeg’s North End, where listings are in their price range.
“I don’t want to go back and live in an apartment, I don’t want to start over again,” Pisclevich said. “This isn’t how I envisioned my retirement.”
Pisclevich and his fellow plaintiffs — John Howden, Stephen and Shaun Moran, and Keith and Alex McDermid — say the damage they suffered was the result of the province’s decision to increase the flow of water through the Portage Diversion. In order to protect Winnipeg and properties along the Assiniboine River, the province temporarily allowed 33,000 cubic feet of water per second — well above the normal maximum of 25,000 — in the spring of 2011.
“What happened with the Portage Diversion, was they sent too much water into the lake, so much that it overflowed and flooded,” said Alex McDermid.
Prior to 2011, McDermid and his two sons operated the Sunshine Resort campground near St. Laurent. Now he sees nothing but flat, barren land where his home and business used to be.
Initially reluctant to join the lawsuit, he said his treatment by the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC) changed his mind.
“We thought we were going to get more from MASC, the people that were supposed to be looking after us as far as financing goes, but they didn’t come up with the figure I thought they would,” said McDermid.
Now he hopes that flooding this spring doesn’t delay the building of his new home, which will be four to eight feet off the ground.
The pending lawsuit will have no impact on the operation of the diversion this spring, said the minister of infrastructure and transportation.
“I think everyone on our flood fight team respects those views and if people wish to undertake legal action that’s fine,” said Steve Ashton.
“But I want to stress when it comes to the Portage Diversion, the kind of operation we’re looking at this year is very similar to the operation we’ve had on a regular basis.”
However, the province has taken steps to avoid a repeat of the 2011 flood.
The Fairford water control structure has remained wide open since 2010, even when the Portage Diversion was closed, and the province is also prepared to reopen the emergency outflow channel from Lake St. Martin to Big Buffalo Lake if need be, said Ashton, adding lake levels fell by five feet before it was closed.
At a recent meeting of flood-affected residents, many agreed it didn’t make sense to spare them and inundate Winnipeg, but said they deserved full compensation for their sacrifice.
The lawsuit is also a way to bring the issue of drainage and water management back into the spotlight, said Pisclevich, who is currently residing in accommodations provided by the province.
“The amount of water that comes into our tributaries is coming too fast, we need to slow it down and have wetlands again,” he said. “We need to have a way to store it.”