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Waiting For The Water

Tables set for the next meal, clean tea towels hung neatly on drying racks and the scent of baking bread was a scene of peace and normalcy inside the James’ Valley Hutterite Colony’s kitchen last week – in marked contrast to the tension and urgency prevailing outside.

Located right in the midst of the La Salle watershed south of Elie, the 93-year-old James Valley Colony was one of several Hutterite colonies east of Portage la Prairie last week readying for the slow-motion tsunami that began rolling their way after the province cut the dike at Hoop and Holler Bend.

Known as one of the “river colonies,” James Valley Colony and other colonies nearby may be transformed into islands in an overland sea this week as diverted water from the Portage-area release swells the La Salle Water Basin.

Construction of a huge earthen dike began at James Valley May 9 immediately following an emergency meeting with flood officials.

By week’s end, a massive dirt and “super sandbag” ring dike was near completion.

Then the waiting began.

Provincial officials expected the water released by the cut to disperse across fields throughout the week, reaching Elie (which is directly north of James Valley) within seven to eight days.

However, no one was ruling out a worst-case scenario, should the Assiniboine River suddenly break through its dikes, and the province be forced to let significantly more water out at Hoop and Holler breach.

Evacuation orders may come. The James Valley hog herd cannot be moved due to biosecurity reasons. The colony has found an alternative site for their 75 dairy cows, with arrangements made to transport milk needed back to the colony on a daily basis.

The colony has not turned a wheel anywhere on its land. Plus, of no small concern was the fact their garden now lies beyond the protection of the ring dike. Like all Hutterite colonies, that garden is a mainstay of their food system and the looming spectre of being unable to plant it was cause for concern last week as well.

“It would affect us very, very much if we couldn’t plant a garden,” said James Valley Colony member Lena Wurtz. Virtually all vegetables consumed by this colony’s 145 residents are grown and preserved here. A thick binder in the kitchen is a record of the thousands upon thousands of units of frozen and canned vegetables and fruit colony women put by each year.

The good news is those stores of foodstuffs won’t run out anytime soon. Their pantries and walk-in freezers are all amply stocked and they could manage well for months before they’d start to feel the pinch of no summer garden for 2011.

Plus, colonies unaffected by flood waters are certain to share and help their flooded counterparts.

“Right now we’re not thinking about that,” added Wurtz. “We’re hoping to plant a garden.”

The James Valley Colony was established in 1918 and holds in its collective memories dealing with other historic floods, including the flood of 1950.

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Itwouldaffectus very,verymuchif wecouldn’tplant agarden.”

– JAMES VALLEY COLONY MEMBER LENA WURTZ

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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