Valley Residents Fed Up With Red River Flooding

Frustration about constant flooding from the Red River spilled over at an international commission forum on flood solutions for the Red River basin.

Local residents voiced aggravation at the economic and emotional toll from spring floods which regularly inundate farmland and cut off communities.

Many demanded compensation for the expense, damage and inconvenience caused by flood waters.

“This constant flooding has darn near burned us out,” said Cheryl Kennedy Courcelles, a St. Adolphe resident. “We’re not going to do it for free for very much longer.”

But the meeting also heard flood control in the Red River Valley is hugely complicated and solutions are hard to come by.

“There is no silver bullet in any of this, that’s the problem,” said Lance Yohe, executive director of the Red River Basin Commission, which hosted the Nov. 19 meeting.

The bilateral commission, with directors from Manitoba, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, is developing a report on long-term flood mitigation in the Red River basin. The US$1-million study is funded by the Minnesota and North Dakota legislatures.

The commission last week wrapped up a series of forums for public input into the report, due in 2011. The Morris meeting was the only one held in Manitoba.

Some expected to hear grievances about the U. S. dumping water on Canada, especially since the majority of spring run-off ending up in the Red River happens south of the border.

But most complaints centred around local issues, including drainage, ice jams and the Winnipeg floodway.

Robert Hamblin, whose 2,400-acre farm near Morris has been flooded six times since 1966, blamed uncontrolled drainage by landowners for contributing to flooding.

“They’re using this land as a holding tank,” said Hamblin.

Later, Hamblin said there’s been so much drainage in the valley that the damage may be irreversible.

“How do you turn around and change something that’s like a moving train?”

Several farmers said flooding regularly prevents them from seeding crops on all their land. Crop insurance coverage for unseeded acres is inadequate and the only solution is a special compensation fund, they said.

“We have to be paid to store this water,” said one.

Others expressed resentment about the Winnipeg floodway. Residents claim the floodway backs up water when engaged and artificially floods land upstream.

“We’ve done a very good job in this province of doing (flood control) on the backs of other people,” said Bob Stefaniuk, mayor of the Rural Municipality of Ritchot, hard hit by flooding this spring.

The meeting heard about the economic toll on Manitoba from periodic Red River flooding, including the shutdown of major highways, main railway lines and grain elevators.

Some also spoke about the emotional toll of being isolated on farms and left to fend for themselves for weeks on end.

“People like me fall through the cracks,” said Sandra Harder, who lives on a century family farm near Morris

Still others said overland flooding from heavy rains in summer hurts valley farmers even more than spring flooding.

Cliff Graydon, Conservative MLA for Emerson, suggested a fund based on 10 cents an acre to help compensate farmers whose crops are destroyed by summer flooding.

But people shouldn’t forget the need for drought-proofing in dry years, Graydon added.

Later, Yohe said the Morris meeting reflected identical concerns by farmers and residents on the U. S. side.

The commission’s report will stress to U. S. legislators the need for a co-ordinated flood control effort instead of a piecemeal approach, he said.

“It’s entirely possible that one side of the river in the U. S. could do a project that actually makes flooding worse for the other side because they’re not co-ordinating it,” saidYohe.

“And nobody’s even asked the question, what happens at the international boundary and how do we deal with that as water moves into Manitoba.” [email protected]

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