The Manitoba government now says floodwaters could reach 2009 levels as more rain is forecast for much of the southern portion of the province this weekend.
Provincial flood forecaster Fisaha Unduche says officials fear 30-80 mm of precipitation could fall over already water-logged southern Manitoba river basins starting Friday and continuing on through Sunday morning.
That’s on top of roughly 80 mm that’s fallen over the area since the start of April — some 300 per cent above normal levels — Unduche added.
“We’re going through a little bit of crazy weather,” he said at a Friday flood update.
“With this high precipitation amount, specifically precipitations received last weekend, flows in the rivers have been rising in most Manitoba basins.”
The Red River Valley received up to 70 millimetres of rain last weekend as a Colorado low parked over the province for 48 hours.
Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Doyle Piwniuk said Manitoba had already seen its third highest level snowfall in the last 100 years before getting hit with four significant precipitation events — including a late season blizzard — in April.
“Now, with the historical rains, this spring has also provided us with some unique challenges,” he said.
Flood warnings issued
With levels on the Red, Assiniboine and many other rivers rising, a flood watch has been issued for most of the southern Manitoba basins and several municipalities in the region have already declared local states of emergency.
Most ditches and waterways are either full or nearly full, the province said, and heavy rains over a short period of time may lead to overland flooding.
Depending on exactly how much precipitation falls this weekend, Unduche said water flows on the Red River could hit between 78,000 and 98,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) in Emerson and 90,000 to 115,00 CFS at Ste. Agathe this spring.
Water levels reached roughly 87,000 CFS at Emerson and 91,000 CFS in Ste. Agathe in 2009, he said.
Peak levels are expected in Emerson May 7-9 and could remain that high until as late as May 14, , Unduche said.
He said the Red River Floodway and Portage Diversion remain in operation, and water levels in Winnipeg are expected to remain stable around 19 feet at James Avenue, although they could climb as high as 20 feet, depending on how much water the Assiniboine River brings.
The river level in Winnipeg was 17.44 feet at James as of Friday afternoon, the city said in a release.
Areas around the Assiniboine River remain under a flood warning between St. Lazare and Brandon.
Provincial forecasting shows that region could see 30 mm of precipitation this weekend, which may lead to flooding of low lying areas, Unduche said.
Detour on Highway 75 expected
As of Friday morning local states of emergencies have been declared in the RMs of Cartier and Headingley west of Winnipeg, the RMs of Montcalm, Morris and Ritchot south of the city, and the RM of Fisher in the Interlake.
Later in the day Friday the RM of Montcalm said evacuation orders had been issued for 17 households on the east side of the Red River on St. Mary’s Road, which was breached by floodwaters overnight Thursday.
Sections of at least 25 roadways had also been partially closed due to flooding in municipality by late Friday afternoon.
Emergency management head Johanu Botha said more than 20,000 sandbags along with sandbagging machines have been delivered to impacted communities and evacuation planning is underway.
Pumping operations are also in effect and crews are preparing to close dike closures as need, Botha added.
The province said crews are closely watching river levels around Morris and are working to to keep Hwy 75 — the main link between Winnipeg and the U.S. border — open as long as possible.
However, Piwniuk said rising water levels mean Hwy 75 north of Morris is expected to close Friday evening, with a minor detour rerouting traffic onto PR 205 at Aubigny along PR 246 to Hwy 23 at Morris, before joining back onto Hwy 75.
The province says rising waters may lead to dike or highway closures and drivers are warned to stay off closed roads and not to travel on roadways inundated with water.
Morris remains optimistic
The RM of Morris is one of those that has declared a state of emergency, but reeve Ralph Groening says only one family has “relocated,” since the rising waters had them concerned nearby roads may be overtaken and left them stranded in their home.
Overall, he says the community is confident its flood protection measures will hold up.
“It’s really nothing that most people haven’t seen before,” Groening said.
“How are people responding? They’re confident that the protection that was put in place after the 1997 flood will continue to provide them protection, and I trust and believe that is so.”
The protection he’s referring to means their infrastructure was built to withstand a 1997 flood plus two feet.
“What we’re going to focus on is our road closures,” Groening said, adding nine local roads have been closed thus far.
“Other than that, we want to reassure our residents that we’re ready and able and prepared to respond to any problems that may arise based on this latest weather system.”
A few miles outside of town, farmer Mark Bergstresser says the conditions are, “sad to say,” fairly normal.
“(Flooding has) become almost an annual event in spring,” Bergstresser said.
“In the past few years we’ve actually had floods in spring and fall and in summer.”
The grain farmer says he’s fortunate his home is situated on a naturally raised parcel of land, one he has lived on his entire life.
Although he has little concern for any damage to the buildings on his property, he says the spring flooding will inevitably lead to debris, such as trees and crop residue, accumulating on his fields.
“Quite often when we have planting delays it can lead to crops being not as good. It’s not always true, but it weighs on your mind,” Bergstresser said.
“In 1996 we had a major flood and had a fantastic crop. 1997, we had a huge flood (and) we had a horrible crop. So you just don’t know.”
In the longer term, he says soil erosion may become an issue, but he’s also concerned by what may happen with so much man-made infrastructure directing water flows into the Red River basin.
“I feel the Red River is totally being abused over the last number of decades and using it to drain everybody’s water. You have to remember: when we try and get rid of water from one area, it’s always on somebody else’s property,” Bergstresser said.
“The water runs so fast now, it all comes very quickly. I feel in the future we could have a flood that communities like Morris and St. Jean (Baptiste), they would never survive because the flood will be way bigger than those ring dykes.
“It may not be in my lifetime, but it will come.”
For now, both Bergstresser and Groening say cleaning up after the water recedes will be a bigger headache than the flood itself.
Updated highway information can be found on the province’s website.
-With files from Will Reimer.