Archive for June, 2011

Battle lost

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

As this column is being written, the already rain soaked fields are being loaded up with even more rain. This mid-week rain storm may well signal a break in the weather and drier times hopefully are ahead.

However, the battle is lost for this year for many people. For the businesses in Brandon, closed for the flood, the year cannot likely be a profitable one. For the people who have had homes damaged, there are costs that will never be recovered.
However there are greater losses looming on the horizon. Farm fields may not get seeded but there are farmers and cottage owners around the lakes that have had their property actually disappear. We have had many reports of  Lake Manitoba coming inland by as much as two miles. That’s a lot of land that will be destroyed. Hayland will have to be re-established if it ever emerges from the water.

The province of Manitoba says that this year was a once in 300 year flood. That’s nonsense actually. The earliest recorded flood that I have ever seen stats for was about 1820, the one that covered all the Red River Valley to the point where Stony Mountain was all that was sticking out of the water. The Hudson Bay archives might contain some reports from earlier times, if the reports still exist, from the trading post at Kinosota which was established around 1817. The “one in 300 year” statement is a desperate smokescreen to cover up some of the inept planning that went into the 2011 flood fighting.

That said, there is a very unusual amount of water all over, both this year and last year. And it will get worse. Unlike the flood of the 1820s or 1950 or 1997, there are some major differences. Once there’s a major rainy season or heavy snowfall and the natural run-off occurs, it will happen more quickly and easily the next time. Natural gullies, run-offs and drainage points will be deeper, steeper, cleaner and faster the next time. Its just the way natural erosion works. Each gully gets deeper and steeper with succeeding floods. Making the situation worse is that farm fields are being drained with bigger and bigger equipment. The farm drainage system has become very effective. What took days to drain a few years ago may only take hours next year.

And finally, water runs down hill and “down hill”, in this case, is Lake Manitoba. Lake Manitoba reportedly only has one drain and that’s the dam at Fairford. But it has a lot of inlets, all the creeks, the little steams, the Whitemud River and of course the man-made Portage Diversion. In an ideal year, with ideal management, Lake Manitoba would stay at fairly constant levels. That would ensure water for Manitoba Hyrdo, keep the recreational lake levels at the desired height and keep the farmers’ land out of the water. But ideal years rarely happen and this is certainly not an ideal year. It’s doubtful, given all the natural and man-made drainage that has taken place, if we will ever see “ideal” again.

A large meeting of farmers was held at Langruth on Wednesday. They were angry, they were upset and they had every right to be upset. If Lake Manitoba is going to be Manitoba’s major water storage, then land owners who bought land in good faith, in some cases from the government, need to be compensated. It had better be done with more justice than the longstanding Grassy Marsh Farmers’ Association situation that was featured last week on the front page of the Neepawa Banner.
The provincial government has made a policy that is deemed necessary for flood protection of Winnipeg, for Hydro water sourcing, for irrigation needs and for recreation. Those policies are a benefit to the whole province, therefore the people who are harmed by those policies need to be compensated.

It’s an issue of property rights and its an issue of justice. 

I have been attending public meetings for over 40 years. The next government official that suggests we have a study will get a tongue lashing that he will never forget. Farmers and lake front property owners don’t need another study any more than First Nations need another survey. They need action.

Governments and the people relatively unaffected by the decades of inaction are very fortunate they live in Canada. In many countries this level of injustice would have resulted in violence. Left unattended, it still could.
There’s a great deal of praise and credit sitting on the public policy table right now that could be easily scooped up by the politician with courage enough to reach out and grasp it.

I’ve been waiting 40 years to see it.


kwaddell@kenwaddell.ca This is a Sunrize Group internet solution (204)226-2247