With the latest word from flood-watch information services on both sides of the border that a substantial crest was on the way, officials in Melita were shoring up dikes along Hwy. #3 on the southeast side of the town April 16 in expectation of a Souris River flood on par with 1999.
The crest, which had reportedly just passed through Minot, North Dakota April 14, was expected to arrive in Melita on the 29th or 30th of April, according to Grant Hume, a Melita town councillor and emergency services co-ordinator.
“We’re calling for potentially 1,411 feet above sea level, which is a good foot or more higher than in 1999,” said Hume, which would make this year’s flood almost as bad as 1976, the record worst year.
The sandbags placed along the highway last week aimed to provide up to a 10-foot barrier against the rising waters, which were expected to force a number of local businesses on the east side of Hwy #83 to close up shop for the duration.
HIGH WATER LEVELS
The Minot Daily Newsreported that high water levels were being reported downstream in the Logan, Sawyer and Velva areas, but that the river appeared to have crested at lower-than-expected levels, and was widening as it travelled north through a series of low dams at the J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge, just before Westhope, the most northerly monitoring station below the Canadian border.
The U. S. National Weather Service had predicted that the Souris River’s level at Westhope would hit 16.6 feet, lower than the record of 19.16 feet set in 1976. The flood level there is 10 feet.
Senior Manitoba flood forecaster Alf Warkentin said that the half-dozen or so dams at the wildlife refuge might help to alleviate some of the flow north, but not by much, and all eyes would be on the crest as it moves towards Westhope.
“This is just way too much. It’s going to go straight through there,” he said April 16. “There will be a little bit of attenuation, but they can’t hold this much water at all.”
According to the U. S. forecasts, Warkentin said that a 10-foot rise in the river by late April or early May was likely.
“I know it’s a little hard to believe, and I’m a bit nervous about it myself, but they’ve been consistently forecasting that kind of flow coming to the border from the U. S. side,” he said.
Heavy snow last winter in North Dakota has left four to five inches of water on top of ground already saturated by fall rains.
“That’s more than what the Red River had,” he said.
The Assiniboine River crest was reportedly moving past Virden early last week, but apart from flooded agricultural land, it appears that the river this year was more sedate than in the past, said Warkentin.
Stan Cochrane, president of the Assiniboine Valley Producers Association, said that forecasts of “localized flooding” had irked some farmers on the Kenton and Virden-area stretches of the river, who had reported water flowing over their roads as of April 16.
“It’s a lot higher than they expected,” he said. “But we don’t get much press because the Red River Valley is going to have a dandy.”
If the current river level is in fact the peak flow, and no rain falls in the coming weeks, the river should fall back to normal levels and allow some flooded fields to drain in time for seeding. The ongoing struggle between the group and government agencies for flood loss compensation would likely continue, he added.
“The people in the Red River Valley have been complaining that this is the third time they’ve been flooded in 13 years, but we’re saying it’s probably the 10th time we’ve been flooded in 13 years.”
Scott Day, a MAFRI diversification specialist based in Melita, said that soil moisture levels were recovering in the area after last year’s drought. On May 1 last year, the Souris River had run dry at Melita – the first time in living memory.
He noted that most of the heavy snowfall seemed to have stopped just a few miles over the U. S. border, with southeastern Saskatchewan getting little snow last winter.
“I guess what we’re looking at is a flood from the United States. Our snow is gone, there’s been really no issues with overland flooding in any of the creeks or tributaries going into the Souris, so things are kind of getting back to normal,” said Day. “Most the creeks ran good and most of the dugouts filled up. As far as moisture conditions right now, we’re very pleased.”
Further north, in the Parklands region, the RCMP blamed flooding for the drowning of an elderly woman after she and her husband tried to drive across the Woody River on Easter Sunday.
Flood waters northeast of Swan River swept the vehicle away when the couple tried to drive across a river crossing. The body of the 79-year-old woman was recovered and her 82-year-old husband is also presumed to have drowned, police said. Their identities haven’t been disclosed. [email protected]