SELKIRK -- Icebreaking operations on the Red River north of Selkirk are set to begin to help prevent ice jam flooding in the spring.

On Monday, three amphibex machines were unloaded from semi-trailers, assembled on-site and then made their way on to the frozen Red River where they’ll be for the next month.

Darrell Kupchik, executive director of North Red Waterway Maintenance, said ice cutters have started to pre-cut the ice before the three amphibex machines start breaking the ice.

“The ice cutters will work just ahead of the ice breakers, ensuring that there’s enough cut ice to keep these folks working through the night,” said Kupchik.

He said the machines will be off the river by the end of March.

Kupchik said elevated river levels this past fall created a rough surface on the river, due to it freezing, breaking up and then re-freezing.

“So it gave us a very uneven ice surface, we’ve got jagged pieces of ice sticking up in some locations,” he said. “What we’ve done is we’ve modified one of our skid steers with a different attachment and we’ve cleared a path through this broken ice that keeps it very level so it allows to cut the ice.”

Other than that, Kupchik said it’s business as usual.

The goal is to break the ice into smaller pieces so that it can flow more freely during the melt and prevent water coming from the south from backing up and spilling the river’s banks.

“The Red River’s prone to ice jam flooding,” said Kupchik. “When that water arrives here, a lot of times this ice is solid so if we don’t proactively get out there and break this ice surface in advance of this oncoming water — this area’s prone to catastrophic ice jam flooding.”

Kupchik noted crews are seeing average ice thickness. 

Grand Forks state of emergency no reason for Manitobans to worry: civil engineering professor

The National Weather Service has previously said there is a high risk of major flooding this spring along the Red River in North Dakota at Fargo/Moorhead, Grand Forks, and Pembina.

Grand Forks has already enacted an emergency declaration to allow the city to receive federal funding to deal with spring flooding but experts in Manitoba say the situation south of the border is different.

University of Manitoba civil engineering professor Jay Doering said even though Grand Forks is concerned, he doesn’t believe there’s any reason for Manitobans to be worried about severe flooding.

“It’s important to remember that we have a floodway and Grand Forks doesn’t,” said Doering. “So, when Grand Forks gets a forecast for a water level that may or may not fit within the river channel, that obviously has very serious implications.

“When it comes to Manitoba, we have a floodway that can help us carry a flood well in excess of a one in a 500-year flood, so we just end up diverting more water into the floodway.”

Doering said worst-case scenario – if there’s more precipitation and a rapid melt – roads may be flooded and community ring dikes may have to close.

“Very inconvenient, very stressful for the people that live in the Red River Valley but I don’t believe that where we currently are – and let me caution we are very far out – that we have any reason to be worried in the City of Winnipeg,” he said.

He noted while river levels and soil moisture levels were high in the fall due to heavy precipitation, the water level in the Red has fallen to a more normal level for this time of year.

“So really all we’ve started off with, with respect to the situation that we had in the fall, the only thing that’s carried through is we still do have relatively saturated soil,” said Doering. “Yes, there’s a fair amount of snow in the basin but it’s not a level I’m anticipating is going to lead to a flood that we’d be particularly worried about.”