Rush to prepare for intentional river dike breach underway
Published Thursday, May 12, 2011 2:05PM CST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 2:43AM CST
The province said a controlled release of water from the Assiniboine River could still occur Thursday in the Hoop and Holler Bend area, but officials pushed back a potential start time.
Wednesday evening, officials said a proposed Thursday 8 a.m. start time is now under review and a potential controlled release is not expected before 12 p.m. Thursday.
Provincial officials said in a media release Wednesday morning the controlled release would only take place, "if the Portage Diversion is unable to handle even higher flows" or if dikes appear at risk of uncontrolled breaches.
CTV News has been told the delay is to allow the military more time to prepare and to help out as much as they can in the area.
Wednesday evening, officials said a potential release time is, "being continuously reviewed and assessed in light of work to increase the capacity on the Portage Diversion, the flows down the Assiniboine River and the ongoing conditions of the dikes between Portage la Prairie and Headingley."
Portage Diversion and Hoop and Holler Bend
Officials said efforts are also being put into place to strengthen the Portage Diversion, which diverts water from the Assiniboine River into Lake Manitoba.
Officials said a number of other measures are being undertaken.
Work is underway to strengthen dikes, in addition to the preparations for a controlled release of the Assiniboine River in the Hoop and Holler Bend area.
Hoop and Holler Bend is between Southport and Newton, south of Portage la Prairie.
Provincial officials said the site is the best option.
"The controlled release site was selected as it provides the least risk and best management for the controlled release," said Steve Topping from Manitoba Water Stewardship. Topping said that historically increased flows have also occurred in the area.
The province also said residents in the area should be on alert for the need for homes to be evacuated, as conditions are subject to change. If any problems arise that could threaten to cause a breach, the timeline for a controlled release may be moved up, said the province.
Residents are being told to follow instructions from their local rural municipalities.
The province said Monday the controlled release of water, which will involve creating a gap in the dike, may be needed to reduce the severity and risk of uncontrolled dike breaches.
In an uncontrolled breach, about 850 homes would be at risk and it could affect an area of 500 square kilometres in communities including St. Eustache, Elie, St. Francois Xavier, Poplar Point and La Salle, among others, said the province.
Some residents questioned in the Hoop and Holler Bend area questioned whether the province was caught off guard by the rise in the Assiniboine in the past week.
"If the issue here is were we prepared – my sense is we did a lot to be prepared," said Ashton.
The province said it spent millions on building up dikes two feet higher than the previous flood on record.
After the current situations eases, Ashton said the government will also look at ways of improving the way the province deals with flooding.
Response from residents
Some residents expressed frustration with the situation.
"Information hasn't been fast-flowing," said Darren Buttler, a homeowner in Newton who is struggling to protect his house and to get details on the proposed breach a few kilometres from his property.
Buttler isn't confident in officials' ability to control the flow of a controlled release.
"We'll see how controlled it is," said Buttler.
Shea Doherty, a greenhouse owner in the area, said a delay in the controlled release is beneficial.
"It gives me more time, but it would be nice if they actually let us know if they're going to break (the dike), how much water would come through," said Doherty.
The controlled release could affect an area of approximately 225 square kilometres and around 150 homes, said the province. Some residents in the area believe it could be closer to 300 homes affected.
Area residents said they need more assistance in preparing for the proposed breach.
The RM of Portage la Prairie said it is asking for more volunteers to help out.
Voluntary evacuation notices
Wednesday evening, the province said about 200 homes near Portage La Prairie were given voluntary evacuation notices. About 150 people were told on May 10, while another 50 were told on May 11, with officials citing concerns about the possibility of overland flooding near the Portage Diversion.
Officials advised evacuees to take medications, child-care needs, identification and important legal documents.
The province said residents are asked to register their destination with the Red Cross at 1-888-662-3211. A reception centre is also located in the Provincial Building located in the city of Portage la Prairie, 25 Tupper Street North.
- with reports from CTV's Eleanor Coopsammy and Jill Macyshon
- more flood information is available on the province's website