“We’re not out of this yet.”
– Steve Ashton
All eyes are on the weather
A vast overland sea stretched across the Red River Valley this week as weary residents hunkered down behind berms and ring dikes to wait out the fourth-worst flood in Manitoba’s history.
A lake up to 16 kilometres wide from the swollen Red River and its tributaries spread over 975 square kilometres, leaving communities and farmyards resembling islands in an ocean.
Rural residents, cut off from roads, navigated in boats through fields up to five feet deep in murky water.
Most were taking it in stride.
“We’ve been through this enough times now, most of us are prepared for it,” said Denis Houle, a dairy farmer east of Letellier, who had to drive a tractor through the flood water so his daughter could catch the school bus.
For many, though, the flood was more than just an inconvenience.
More than 2,200 flood evacuees included people from First Nations, rural municipalities and low-lying areas inside Winnipeg.
A boil-water advisory remained in effect for well water in flooded areas. The province said it will cover 100 per cent of the cost of water testing for up to three months after the flood recedes.
At Breezy Point north of Winnipeg, some people were still waiting to get back into homes damaged by huge ice slabs hurled inland after a late spring breakup.
In Winnipeg itself, residents safe behind the recently expanded floodway could remain almost oblivious to the flood except for a barrage of media coverage.
Even in flooded areas, people were trying to carry on as best they could.
“Life goes on,” said Ingrid Kristjanson, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives business development specialist in Morris, as ring dikes closed once again around the town.
Officials said the flood appeared to have peaked but everything depends on the weather. Significant rainfall and resulting run-off could cause the river to crest again because the soil in the valley is totally saturated.
“We’re not out of this yet,” warned Manitoba Water Stewardship Minister Steve Ashton late last week. “No one is sending the all-clear signal here.”
Flood forecasters said the water could take at least three weeks to go down, raising the possibility of delayed spring seeding.
Lorne Hamblin, who has 1,700 acres of cropland under water near Morris, said yield potentials can drop by one per cent a day if seeding is delayed past May 10.
“Everybody in the flood zone is reworking crop plans – if they seed at all or which way they’re going to go,” said Hamblin.
Similar fears occurred after the 1997 flood, which swamped twice as many acres in the Red River Valley as the present flood. But the water drained quickly and only about 2,000 acres could not be seeded that year, according to Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation.
Hamblin said he managed to get his crop seeded in 1997 but wished he hadn’t. A heavy rain on top of waterlogged soil soon afterward drowned everything out.
“When your land is flooded and saturated to the top, you’re behind the eight-ball right from the start.” [email protected]