cbc.ca (© Copyright: (C) Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, http://www.cbc.ca/aboutcbc/discover/termsofuse.html#Rss)
Updated: Wed, 09 Jul 2014 14:10:05 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Manitoba flooding: Dikes holding against swollen Assiniboine River

The flood crest is coming to Portage la Prairie. Cam MacIntosh/CBC

The flood crest is coming to Portage la Prairie. Cam MacIntosh/CBC

The crest of the Assiniboine River is just a few hours away from the Portage Diversion in Manitoba, and so far, the dikes are holding up against the mounting pressure of the river.

Provincial flood forecasters originally said river levels would peak in the area at about noon CT Wednesday, and then continue east toward several more communities and on to Winnipeg. But in a news conference at 10 a.m., Premier Greg Selinger said it could be later than that.

"We expect to see that peak somewhere between noon and suppertime tonight, subject to any revisions in the forecast, but today looks like the day when we hit the max," Selinger said.

- LIVE BLOG: Updates from CBC reporters in the field

Selinger said the dikes are in better shape than in 2011 and officials are hopeful they will hold.

He also said crews are monitoring water levels round the clock.

"The dikes are being monitored day time on the ground, and in the evening the military has provided a very expensive and important plane called the Aurora, which has the ability to fly over and detect any changes in water movement all night long," Selinger said.

The crest at the Portage Reservoir is expected to be at about 51,600 cubic feet of water per second (cfs), while the crest at the Portage Diversion is expected to reach about 34,000 cfs.

The flow on the Assiniboine River downstream from the diversion is expected to be about 18,000 cfs.

More water headed to Portage Diversion

The provincial government hopes to push much of the excess water through the Portage Diversion, a flood control structure just west of Portage la Prairie, which is already running at near capacity.

"They're pushing about the equivalent of an Olympic-sized swimming pool through that gate every 2.5 seconds," CBC reporter Cam MacIntosh said. 

And all of that water is heading north, along a 29-kilometre channel to Lake Manitoba, where communities around the lake are fearing the increased lake levels.

Selinger toured the area near the Portage Diversion on Wednesday morning.

Kam Blight, reeve of the rural municipality of Portage la Prairie, said the water going through the diversion is astounding, but he feels the communities along the Assiniboine River, just west of Winnipeg, are as prepared as possible.

"Oh, there's no doubt there's a large slug of water moving awfully fast through the Portage Diversion," he said.

"We have to be ready now because the flows are at such a high point that if we're not, we're in trouble [but] I feel we're in a good position.

In fact, Blight believes the crest won't be much higher than the levels already being seen.

"The crest is expected later today, however, basically we're almost in the crest right now. It's a minor change to what the actual crest will be from right now 'til tonight," he said.

Roger Poitras, reeve of the regional municipality of St. Francois Xavier, which is closer to Winnipeg, said sandbagging crews were working hard into the night. Of the 93 properties identified earlier this week as being at risk, only four are left to sandbag and he's confident crews will get that done Wednesday morning.

He said you can see the water rising and Caron Drive in the municipality is now under water.

While he believes they will be ready, Poitras said it will take at least three weeks before they can relax.

Record flood levels expected

Military and volunteer crews have been busy sandbagging homes in that area over the past several days.

Officials are warning homeowners along the river to prepare for water levels about 30 centimetres higher than record flood levels the area saw in 2011.

A "dramatic mobilization" has helped prepare the province as much as possible for the crest of floodwater bearing down from the west, Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said Tuesday.

Officials say it is now unlikely it will be necessary to cut through a road dike at the Hoop and Holler Bend in the Assiniboine to let the pressure off of the swollen river, and Selinger reiterated on Wednesday the cut would only be made as a "last resort."

A significant crest of the Assiniboine is expected to reach the community of St. Francois Xavier 24 hours after the Portage Diversion crest, then the edge of Winnipeg just after that.

Hundreds of people have been forced from their homes since torrential rainstorms caused overland flooding in parts of southeastern Saskatchewan and southwestern Manitoba in late June.

Lake Manitoba residents on high alert

People living near the Lake Manitoba are preparing for the worst — high lake levels combined with strong winds that could breach their dikes.

The Rural Municipality of St. Laurent, which has declared a state of local emergency, says about 750 properties are at risk.

Municipal officials say the provincial government has not helped them out to date, so they have hired private contractors to put sandbags in areas most at risk.

"The province is not giving us the courtesy of answering our phone calls, of letting us arrange a meeting with them," St. Laurent Coun. Mona Sedleski told CBC News late Tuesday.

Area resident Claude Noble said he fears that the sandbagging efforts won't help, as it took just one windstorm in 2011 to breach the dikes.

"Is this going to happen every three years?" he said.

"They said that's a [once in a] 300 year flood. Well, it's been a short 300 years."

Second crest of the Assiniboine

Even before the first crest has passed, Manitoba officials are calculating the height of a second one that could be higher than the first in Brandon.

The province expects that one to arrive around July 20 in Brandon but is still working on its forecast, which will cover the Assiniboine's path from the Shellmouth Dam through to Winnipeg.

more video