Dozens forced from their homes due to concerns over possible Rivers dam failure
RIVERS, MAN. -- Dozens of people have been forced from their homes in southwest Manitoba over concerns a dam near the community of Rivers, Man. may fail.
The dam is located on Lake Wahtopanah on the Little Saskatchewan River.
The area has been hit with record-breaking rainfall this week, more than 200 millimetres in some areas, and the province is concerned about the integrity of the structure.
Access to the area around the dam is restricted to essential workers only.
They’re monitoring the 60-year-old structure closely but the water at the dam is at its highest level ever and officials say it wasn’t meant to handle such heavy flows.
Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler said water is flowing over the dam at 12,000 cubic feet per second.
Wes Savorn and David Wolfe were among 80 people forced from their homes late Wednesday night because they live below the dam along the Little Saskatchewan River.
“We just bought the property,” said Savorn. “We’re still unpacking.”
“So if the dam does break, we’re going to get impacted somehow, someway.”
Savorn said they were notified in person by four emergency services personnel.
“‘Sorry you’re going to have to leave,’ because, you know, you may lose your home,” he said.
“We’re optimistic things will work out,” said Wolfe. “They’re just trying to take precautions. Better safe than sorry.”
Schuler said engineers are concerned about the bottom of the dam’s spillway. Officials said if it gives way the water in the valley below the dam will rise fast and could wipe out everything in its path — including roads, bridges, and homes.
“And those that are in the immediate danger zone have been moved and I understand their livestock is being moved as well,” said Schuler Thursday during a media conference held in Winnipeg, after visiting the area over recent days.
The mayor of the Municipality of Riverdale already lost his home along Lake Wahtopanah due to rising water above the dam. Todd Gill said lake levels increased nine feet. He said the main focus has become keeping people safe below the dam which meant getting them out of their homes and into hotels or with friends and family.
“They (Manitoba Infrastructure) do no trust the integrity of the structure given its age and more so given the level of Lake Wahtopanah and most importantly the flow rate,” said Gill
Communities farther downstream are also bracing for a sudden spike in river levels if the dam gives way.
The Little Saskatchewan flows into the Assiniboine River which runs right through the city of Brandon, Man.
Mayor Rick Chrest said out of an abundance of caution, about 100 businesses and 1,900 people living in around 775 homes were told to have a bag ready and to prepare to leave their homes within hours. But so far no evacuations have been ordered.
“A total failure (of the dam) we would still be a couple of feet below our dike level,” said Chrest, noting if an evacuation is ordered it would be for precautionary reasons. Chrest doesn’t expect the water spill over the community’s dike system.
Sharon Davis lives on Kirkcaldy Drive in Brandon, a stone’s throw from the dike, and received a notice to prepare for an evacuation in the event river levels rise. She’s moving out all her photos and has a bag ready in case she has to leave.
“I thought ‘oh maybe I’ll wait until morning to do this,’ of course I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and started packing,” said Davis.
People living below the dam in Rivers just hope the structure holds.
“Been around there a long time,” said one of the evacuees, Dwayne Webster. “One question I do ask is where are all the reports, integrity reports? If it’s been monitored. Why are we dealing with this at the last minute?”
Schuler said this is a one-in-1000-year flood event. He said the dam was last inspected in June and was up to par to handle normal flows.
He added this situation is worse than the flood of 2011 on the Little Saskatchewan River — flows that year were 5,000 cubic feet per second, the minister said.
Schuler said it’ll take several days for the level on the lake to recede and only then will crews be able to get a better look at the Rivers dam to tell if it’s safe.
-With files from CTV's Devon McKendrick.