The Manitoba government is promising “comprehensive” compensation to crop farmers and livestock producers whose livelihoods are threatened by the unprecedented Assiniboine River flooding this spring.
“I do want to indicate we are developing through our Department of Agriculture a comprehensive plan for the many impacted areas throughout the province whether it be in the Shoal Lakes, around Lake Manitoba and of course in and around the Assiniboine Valley,” Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton told reporters May 15.
“Our MAFRI staff has ongoing contact with farmers in the controlled release area and they are working with livestock producers in the Lake Manitoba area. It is important to note that livestock producers will be affected by many of the high lake levels and that certainly is going to be a major focus throughout the province,” Ashton said.
As vegetable and crop farmers south of the deliberate cut in the dike at Hoop and Holler watched their fields fill with water, farmers in the area surrounding Lake Manitoba were scrambling to move cattle to higher ground as lake levels continued to rise. (See related stories pg. 2-3 and pg. 12.
Waters are being diverted through the Portage Diversion north to Lake Manitoba and south through a deliberate breach in the
river dike at Hoop and Holler Bend southeast of Portage la Prairie in a bid to avoid an uncontrolled breach that could affect an even larger area.
The surging lake levels are inundating pasture and forage lands, as well as threatening cottages.
Doug Connery of Connery’s Riverdale Farms Ltd., says the four vegetable farms facing flooding as of the deliberate spill created May 14 said losses in farm gate sales for those operations alone could be as high as $10 million if they can’t plant.
He fears his fourth-generation business is at risk.
While pleased there’ll be a special program, Connery, Manitoba’s largest asparagus and strawberry producer and one of its biggest carrot and onion growers, said collecting is another matter.
“When you go through these things you wait so long,” he said. “It’s different people in charge… and they’re usually accountant-type people and their job is to hand out the least amount of money they have to. And you usually have to fight for every cent that you deserve.”
Connery and all the other farmers affected by “artificial flooding” have the support of the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), said president Doug Chorney. Farmers must recoup 100 per cent of their property damage and lost income, he said.
“This is really the government taking away people’s right, not just to property, but to earn a living,” Chorney said.
“It’s tragic when a city person loses their home but all of them have a job to go to the next day. Farmers have no place to turn when they’ve lost their farm and their home and no income.”
Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives Minister Stan Struthers stressed farmers in the spill zone will be treated fairly.
“The premier was very clear that we’re going to be compensating very fairly and very swiftly and it will be comprehensive,” he said. “We’re not going to worry about the $200,000 limit (under the Disaster Financial Aid program). We know there are farmers like Doug who are in special circumstances and will need more than just that support.”
The province hopes the federal government will cost-share the ad hoc program. Premier Greg Selinger raised the issue with Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week while they toured flood areas.
The Portage Diversion, which defects water from the Assiniboine River into Lake Manitoba, was already exceeding its official capacity before the crest expected this week.
An uncontrolled blowout along the Assiniboine’s dikes could see 15,000 cubic feet a second (cfs) of water escape – five times the 3,000 cfs going through the hastily built collapsible weir here. An uncontrolled breach could flood 850 homes and 500 square kilometres, according to the Manitoba government, while the controlled release will affect 150 homes and 225 square kilometres.
At press time, efforts to protect the homes in the water’s way appeared to be working.
“I can’t say it enough times,” Ashton said May 12. “We are not giving up on any of the homes in that area. We’re going to do absolutely everything we can with every system we have available to us to try and make a difference.”
If an uncontrolled breach occurred it would likely be in the same area as the controlled one, he said.
“This is not a matter of trading off one area against another,” Ashton said.
Ashton said post-flood they’ll look at all forms of mitigation, including increasing the outflow capacity of Lake Manitoba. There is currently 34,000 cfs flowing into the lake, with only 14,000 cfs flowing outward at Fairford. [email protected]
– DOUG CONNERY