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Manitoba says risk of floods this year less than in 2011

Feb. 27, 2013, Winnipeg. MB - Manitobans should be able to breathe easy this year as the province gears up for its annual fight against flooding.

The provincial government says low soil moisture levels mean there is only a small risk of substantial flooding along major riverways.

Even if bad storms develop, the outlook does not call for major or record flooding, says Phillip Mutulu, chief flood forecaster.

As usual, much depends on the weather over the next several weeks: how quickly the snow melts, whether major dumps of snow or rain occur at the same time as the melt and whether unpredictable ice jams develop.

Flood preparations are an annual ritual in Manitoba, where melt water comes from as far away as Alberta and South Dakota. In 2011 -- one of the worst years on record -- thousands of people were forced from swamped houses and cottages along the Assiniboine River, Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin. Many First Nations residents have not returned to their homes.

The cost of flood-fighting, repairs and compensation reached $1.2 billion.

Last year was an entirely different story as low snowfall and nice weather made flooding a non-event.

The province has an array of weapons designed to keep water flowing smoothly along. Three amphibious icebreakers are used to break up rivers. There are dikes built around many smaller communities and diversion channels move water around larger cities.

Winnipeg is protected by the Red River Floodway, a 47-kilometre-long channel that diverts water around the city to the east and north.

Even in good years, some farmland and roads end up under water and some small communities are evacuated as a precaution. That is expected this year as well.

"It could be road closures, it could be in terms of evacuations, and again, that could range to a much higher impact ... if we have major storms," says Steve Ashton, the province's emergency measures minister.

The biggest concern is around The Pas in northern Manitoba, where soil moisture is above average. Agricultural land in the area is expected to be flooded.

The province is scheduled to provide an updated flood forecast at the end of March.

 


February 27, 2013
By The Canadian Press