July 8, 2014 2:31 am

Manitoba battling climate change, emergency measures minister says

ABOVE: A race against time and Mother Nature – Global’s Tamara Forlanski takes us to the front lines of the Canadian army’s flood fight

WINNIPEG – Climate change will force Manitoba to continue the flood fight in years to come, Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said Tuesday.

“Our climate is changing, particularly here on the Prairies,” he said during a flood update at the Manitoba Legislative Building. “We’re going to have to prepare for this even more in the future.”

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READ MORE: The rain has stopped, so why is Manitoba still flooding?

Manitoba is engaged in a battle against water as high flows from the Assiniboine River and its tributaries caused by torrential rains at the end of June make their way through the province to Winnipeg.

Hundreds of homeowners are racing to build flood defences higher along the 80-kilometre stretch of the winding Assiniboine River between Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg.

While Ashton pointed out there has been two historic floods so far this decade in southwestern Manitoba, a region that has more frequently battled drought, an Environment Canada meteorologist has said it’s too early to call it climate change.

“Just because you have a wet month it doesn’t say that this is climate change. That would really be bad science,” Environment Canada’s senior climatologist David Phillips said earlier this month, although weather models predict more long periods of heavy rain over the next 30 to 50 years.

“You can find wetter moments in the past,” Phillips said. “But then we’re seeing more of them, more of these events. They seem to be spread over a larger area.”

On Tuesday, officials slightly downgraded the expected flood crest for a second time in two days, to 50,000 cubic feet per second. The province is still ready to possibly cut open a dike at Hoop and Holler Bend, just east of Portage la Prairie, Man., which would flood rural properties to prevent an uncontrolled breach downstream — but not before the crest arrives.

“Tomorrow we hit the crest,” Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said at a news conference Tuesday. “We will not be taking anything for granted.”

RELATED: Manitoba flood damage already mounting

The key time in the flood fight is the next 48 hours, he said.

“There are hundreds of homes that we are working to protect.”

Canadian Forces members at 17 Wing in Winnipeg were among those working Tuesday to protect homes threatened by the flood, which has prompted a province-wide state of emergency and 55 local states of emergency and forced more than 500 people out of their homes.

“It feels like a race against time,” Cpl. Charles Boutin said as about 100 soldiers prepared to leave the air force base at 7:30 a.m.

More than 500 soldiers have been helping build sandbags, transport them and build dikes around properties between Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg, particularly in the rural municipalities of Cartier and St. Francois Xavier.

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The military also brought in a CP-140 Aurora reconnaissance aircraft from its home base in Nova Scotia on Monday night to supply flood forecasters with real-time aerial images of the flood zone.

“We are able to detect even relatively minor breaches or seepages,” Ashton said of information from the military plane.

The crest is expected to reach the Portage Diversion, just west of Portage la Prairie, around noon on Wednesday.

Almost two-thirds of the flow will be directed north to Lake Manitoba via the Portage Diversion, constructed to mitigate Assiniboine River floods. Residents of West Delta Beach on the shores of Lake Manitoba were issued evacuation notices Sunday amid fears the diversion could fail and flood approximately 15 permanent homes and 150 cottages. Work is being done to reinforce the diversion and a “failsafe” has been opened to flood farmland as a precaution against a diversion failure.

READ MORE: Delta Beach residents fight back as community threatened by flood

The province said again Tuesday that it will increase flows on the Assiniboine River to 18,000 cfs by midnight Tuesday, prompting frantic sandbagging by residents threatened by the rising waters.

The Assiniboine crested in Brandon, Man., on Sunday. A second, lower crest is expected on July 17 and 18, flood forecast officials said.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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