Ice-clogged culverts, ditches and tributaries latest flood headaches

Plugged drainage outlets have led to overland flooding, even if most major rivers have yet to spill their banks

More than 100 volunteers came out to fill sandbags near Carman as flood waters rose April 2. Although the town is protected by a diversion, ice jams caused the Boyne River to spill its banks.

Multiple municipalities are fighting overland flooding, even as flood outlooks in many areas have decreased from initial projections.

The problem is widespread, with five states of local emergency declared. Swan River declared an emergency when ice jamming caused the river to rise, threatening the town. The municipalities of Dufferin, Grey, La Broquerie and Two Borders faced similar challenges.

In Carman, ice along the Boyne River and its diversion around the community have caused some of the worst flooding in decades.

Carman Mayor Bob Mitchell said flooding has affected as many as 400 people and flooded about 40 basements. Schools were closed April 3 due to flood conditions.

He said about 150 volunteers turned out April 2 to sandbag, while the region’s emergency centre is currently on standby in case of evacuations.

Flooding in the community significantly dropped since the diversion was installed about 30 years ago, Mitchell said.

“I don’t think they anticipated these types of ice jams. We’ve never seen that,” he said. “In the 35 years I’ve lived here, I have never seen water like this in the sense that it’s in places where you normally don’t see it.”

Residential developments and roadways along Provincial Road 245 were under water this week, an area Mitchell says rarely floods.

Three sections of the community were without water April 3 due to water line breaks and Carman’s water treatment facility had been shut down due to water quality thresholds. The community has drawn additional water from the Pembina Valley Water Co-op, which Mitchell says has put pressure on the co-op’s daily capacity and has resulted in low water pressure.

Water levels receded slightly overnight April 2, good news for a community that is expecting a second surge this week as ice floes to the west break up.

“We’re hoping that the water levels here drop sufficiently so that we can take in this water and it won’t flood anything,” Mitchell said.

Keeping drainage infrastructure clear of ice, as well as ice damming on smaller-drainage tributaries, now appears to be the most significant flooding challenge.

Andrew Weremy, chief administrator for the Municipality of St. Andrews, says crews have been working non-stop for three weeks clearing ice from culverts and ditches.

The municipality had about 200 drainage-related service requests as of March 31.

“With this weather, it’s kind of been a blessing and a curse,” he said. “I guess the blessing is that as it’s been cold over the last couple of weeks. It has really slowed down the flow coming off the fields and the lands and the yards. However, there’s been a little thawing and more freezing and thawing and freezing, so a lot of the water work that we’ve had to do has had to be redone.”

In the March 30 flood forecast, the Province of Manitoba warned that, “… a combination of rapid melt, ice jamming and blocked culverts may lead to a rapid rise in water levels on tributaries and may cause localized overland flooding. Municipal and provincial crews are thawing culverts on a priority basis.”

The Red River was expected to crest April 5-6. A flood warning was put in place on the lower Red River March 31 due to ice jamming north of Selkirk while both Red River and Assiniboine River tributaries were “significantly increasing,” according to the March 30 provincial flood forecast.

All flood mitigation measures are in place in the RM of St. Andrews, Weremy said.

“We have an emergency operations centre set up ready to be enacted if needed,” he said. “Right now, it is a wait-and-see approach. We do have some of our gates and control structures in the closed position and there may be some pumping required, but right now the river is not causing us much concern.”

“That can change,” he added, saying that the municipality continues to watch weather and flood forecasts.

The Municipality of Deloraine-Winchester, in southwestern Manitoba, has also reported ice-jammed culverts and water running over roadways.

Creeks in the area are running at full capacity, according to Reeve Gord Weidenhamer, although he added that the Medora Creek, the main flood threat to the town of Deloraine, will likely not see significant flooding without rainfall.

“Our flood outlook a week ago was very pressuring,” he said. “There was a lot of water, a lot of ice buildup, but as the days progress, our immediate area is actually lessened as far as severe flood outlook.”

The municipality remains concerned about Whitewater Lake, which drains into the Medora Creek and has been a perennial drainage issue in the region.

“I suspect that, with no controls, there will be a substantial amount of water running from that Medora Creek system, which is, of course, something that we are trying to make a plan trying to prevent, trying to hold it during peak times and trying to release during non-peak times, but at the same time, until we can get an answer to that problem, it runs uncontrollably,” he said.

Potential or existing ice jams meant flood watches for the Turtle, Woody, Swan, Whitemouth and Whitemud rivers and Pipestone Creek, while flood warnings were also in place for the Fisher, Morris and Pembina rivers as of March 31.

Pembina River rises

In south-central Manitoba, the dike surrounding Gretna has been partially closed as the Pembina River rises.

International travellers south of Gretna were diverted to ports at Emerson and Walhalla March 31, after flood waters from the Pembina River swamped the crossing between Manitoba and Neche, North Dakota.

The RM of Morris has also reported higher-than-average overland flooding from the Pembina Hills.

“We spend time reassuring people that we believe everything is under control and manageable and if you see that there’s a significant impact on your home and property, then we do respond,” Reeve Ralph Groening said.

The Red River is not currently a major concern, Groening said, although the RM is watching flood forecasts closely.

The Red, Roseau, Morris and La Salle rivers reported rising water levels while Souris River flows were beginning to increase in the last provincial flood outlook of March.

The Portage Diversion opened March 31 to manage ice and water levels on the lower Assiniboine River. The same day the Red River Floodway diversion gates were raised to protect Winnipeg from rising waters. The province also increased flows from the Shellmouth Reservoir for the second time this year to accommodate spring run-off. Outflow was increased to 600 cubic feet per second on March 29, with further increases expected in the following days.

Flood-fighting gear such as pumps, steamers and backhoes have been deployed in southwest Manitoba and other high-risk areas.

Manitoba’s major lakes reported above-average water levels, while remaining ice covered. The province expressed continuing concern over Dauphin Lake, which was expected to be at major risk of flooding even with favourable weather as of March 24.

“At this point we’re just dealing more with culverts freezing up,” Laura Murray, chief administrator for the RM of Dauphin, said. “We’re not really dealing with flood issues. We’ve been told that as long as everything stays normal with normal precipitation, that we should be OK, so we’re hoping for good weather to continue.”

Updated flood information can be found at www.gov.mb.ca/flooding/ or on Twitter at @MBGov.

The Manitoba Co-operator is also working with other publications such as the Western Producer to ensure the latest is available online from our website, through a 24-hour live blog.

About the author

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Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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