It has been a year since the flood of 2011. At that time Manitobans were bombarded by flood news every day. Many felt that they personally knew the people impacted around Lake Manitoba, down the Assiniboine River, Lake Dauphin, Winnipegosis or the Shoal Lakes. There was a sense of solidarity with everyone in the province standing shoulder to shoulder to fight against the latest punch from Mother Nature. This is what Manitobans do after all.
So where are we a year later? While there still are a few stories about compensation not flowing, for the most part public attention has turned to other things such as the fate of a water park, the Jets, or the rising price of gas. These are the ordinary things of everyday life. It is hard to think of a flood after a mild winter and almost perfect spring.
Do we still have the sense of solidarity with the people whose land and houses were sacrificed for the greater good? Frustrated farmers and ranchers around our lakes and in the Assiniboine Valley would shout a resounding “No.”
Producers continue to wait for compensation from 2011. They are looking for a plan to get them through 2012 and they are seeking assurances that last year’s flood will not happen again.
A tour of the pastures and hayfields around Lake Manitoba is akin to a visit to alien landscape.Thousands of acres are still under water. Recently uncovered as lake levels drop is either bare or growing only bulrushes. Two years ago this land was productive and contributing to the growth and prosperity of the province.Many ranchers need to, once again, move their cattle away to summer pasture that is not covered by water or simply black mud flats. Producers need assurances that there will be forage available to replace the crop that would have been grown on inundated acres.
These measures are needed to help ensure Manitoba keeps its cattle herd. Without a plan, many of these ranches which have survived BSE, U.S. trade barriers and closed international markets, may not be around for another year. Every part of Manitoba will suffer if we lose these businesses.
Yes, nature conspired against us last spring. But the flood was not just an act of nature. It was also an act of government.
Governments, for generations, have chosen not to complete the outlet from Lake Manitoba that was called for when the Assiniboine and Red River floodways were built. Last spring many paid the price for these decisions and many are still paying the price today.
What plan is in place to ensure an adequate outlet from Lake Manitoba? It seems rather logical that allowances must be made to move water out of the lake if drains are built to push water in. Similarly, what plans are being developed to prevent flooding in the Assiniboine Valley, downstream of the Shellmouth Dam? Is any level of government contemplating an adequate drain for the Shoal Lakes? If governments are not planning to drain water out of the lakes, are they willing to plug the drains they built that bring water in?
Manitobans do have a collective responsibility to those who carried the burden of the flood of 2011. In the short term we have a basic responsibility to ensure that they can carry on their businesses.
Longer term we have the responsibility for ensuring that they are not flooded again. Manitobans took action after the flood of 1950 drowned Winnipeg. Similar actions are needed today.
The message from flood victims to the rest of Manitoba is clear: “Don’t forget us.” These farmers, ranchers and families still need help. This is not a handout. This is simply compensation for accepting a flood so others could stay dry. They have done their part. We, collectively, should not fail to do ours.