WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Manitoba will take the drastic step of breaking its dikes on the flooded Assiniboine River, swamping a vast swath of farmland in the Canadian Prairie province and displacing hundreds more people to avoid worse flooding.
Breaking the dikes on Wednesday at a spot west of the provincial capital of Winnipeg will unleash a torrent of water that will swamp 225 square kilometers of land, the provincial government said on Monday.
Flood officials said that while the move is a controlled release of up to 6,000 cubic feet of water per second, they don’t know where exactly the water will go when it flows across the flat flood plain.
“This is an unprecedented situation,” said Steve Ashton, Manitoba’s minister of infrastructure and transportation.
Without a controlled release, heavy rain forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday in Saskatchewan and Manitoba could overwhelm temporary dikes and cause an unplanned breach that might flood a much larger area, Ashton said.
A record area of Manitoba is already flooded due to adverse spring melting conditions, rain and ground saturated from last year’s wet conditions.
Breaking the dike will affect an estimated 150 homes and up to 2,000 people across the province may be out of their homes by the end of the week, the provincial government said.
The controlled release is not expected to harm well-defended Winnipeg.
Seven hundred soldiers have been called in to help volunteers with sandbagging to raise dikes and keep water from spilling into several communities, including Brandon, the province’s second largest city.
About 900 families have been evacuated from low-lying areas in Brandon because of the threat of flooding.
“An unstable weather system is expected to bring between 20 to 40 mm (0.8 to 1.6 inches) of rainfall across most basins in southern Manitoba between today and Wednesday,” the province said in a statement.
Some areas could see up to 70 mm (2.8 inches) of rain.
Manitoba battled flooding problems last month on the Red River, which flows north into the province from the United States, but the rains were not expected to increase its water levels, officials said.
The Red and Assiniboine rivers join up in Winnipeg, which has been diverting water around the city by way of a specially constructed floodway.
Troops are also helping fight severe flooding on the Richelieu River in Quebec, south of Montreal. About 3,000 homes have been swamped by that flood, but the water continued to recede on Monday with clear skies in the forecast.
Reporting by Rod Nickel and Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson