In all his 25 years of flying over western Manitoba, Jon Bagley saw the springtime on the bald, flat prairie last week expressed in a way he’d never imagined possible – through raging creeks, washed-out roads and unprecedented overland flooding.
In fact, provincial officials were calling the situation this spring some of the worst flooding the province has seen in 150 years – both in degree and geographical spread, with crests on both the Red and Assiniboine rivers still several days away.
“Just seeing that type of overland flooding in the hillier areas, it kind of opens your eyes,” said Bagley, owner of Westman Aerial Spraying at Douglas.
Just days before it hit, no one would have believed such a rush of water was coming, he said.
“Nothing was happening, the snow was disappearing really quickly and we weren’t seeing any effects of it… we thought this would be a total non-event,” said Bagley. “Then all of a sudden on Monday and Tuesday everything broke loose.”
“It’s just phenomenal, as bad as I’ve ever seen it in our area,” said Jim Boyd, reeve of the Rural Municipality of Elton, after flying over the region with Bagley. With saturated land unable to absorb the snowmelt, torrents of water were pouring over roads across the municipality.
“And there is still a pile of water and snow to go somewhere,” he added.
Boyd and Bagley’s bird’s eye view reflect what Minister of Emergency Measures Steve Ashton was calling “a flood unprecedented in geographic scale” hitting rural Manitoba this spring.
“The degree of overland flooding is also unprecedented,” Ashton said in a media briefing late last week, noting that the flooding covers areas of the province from the Saskatchewan border to eastern Manitoba, and from The Pas to the U.S. border. “We are dealing not just with river-base flooding but very significant overland flooding.
“The 2009 flood was the second- worst flood since 1852, the second worst basically in 150 years. We are on track with current projections for a flood in
and around that range,” he said, adding that while the province is better prepared to fight floods than in the past, it’s “important not to assume that it’s going to follow the same pattern as 2009.”
At press time Monday there were approximately 70 full or partial closures on provincial roads and approximately 725 closures of municipal roads. Those numbers are also believed to be unprecedented, Manitoba emergency officials said.
Twenty-six municipalities had declared a state of local emergency
and there had been nearly 700 evacuations by last weekend, mainly on the Peguis First Nation in the North Interlake. Many homeowners also were experiencing restricted access to their properties.
Farmers attending Keystone Agricultural Producers meeting last week spoke of wet conditions and washed-out roads right across the province’s 11 districts.
Every road but one was closed or flooded with water crossing the road in the adjacent municipality, Minto-area farmer Bill Campbell told the KAP meeting April 14 and Glenn Franklin, who farms near Deloraine, said 27 roads had washed out north of Deloraine. (Please see related story pg 33.)
Ice jams and backed-up streams had also disrupted at least two rail locations in the southwest last week.
On April 12 the tracks of the CPR main line near Chater east of Brandon were left “dangling in midair,” according to witnesses at the scene after nearby Willow Creek backed up.
The water, which at one point was washing over the tracks, flooded dozens of acres of nearby property before it finally broke through.
The line had been repaired by early morning April 15, after traffic had been rerouted over the two days south on branch lines through Souris.
A spokesperson for CPR at week’s end said he was “up to his eyeballs with issues related to the flooding.” (Please see related story Page 33.)
Municipal leaders who didn’t have to stay home flood fighting last week were at a municipal officials seminar in Brandon swapping stories on the extent of flooding. Leaders said they’ve never seen flooding to this extent before, Association of Manitoba Municipalities executive director Joe Masi said.
When the damage is tallied there will be signficant claims for washed-out roadways and other damaged infrastructure, but there is no way to even estimate what that cost may run this year, Masi said.
In 2009, total payouts through Disaster Financial Assistance were $80 million.
The provincial flood bulletin released April 16 said the flood watch issued for the Qu’Appelle River in St. Lazare had been upgraded to a flood warning, while the Saskatchewan Watershed issued an “Urgent Flood Risk Advisory” for the Qu’Appelle River in Saskatchewan and indicated flows could reach record flood levels.
Experts also said the Red River could reach up to 6.95 metres in downtown Winnipeg, the river’s second-highest level in 160 years, surpassed only by the devastating 1997 floods. At that height, the City of Winnipeg would have to install more protection for buildings closest to the river.
The upper level of the forecast range for the Red River remained above 2009 levels for most points on the river as of early this week.
Provincial officials announced shortly before press time April 18 that Highway 75 would be closed at Morris that day.
Water Stewardship officials said the Red River is expected to crest sometime between April 25 and 28 while the Assiniboine’s crest was expected sometime between April 22 and 28.
– STEVE ASHTON PROVINCIAL EMERGENCY MEASURES MINISTER