Manitoba to break dike on flooded river Thursday

Wed May 11, 2011 2:15pm EDT
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By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Manitoba plans to open a dike along the swollen Assiniboine River on Thursday, in a desperate move that would flood a vast swath of farmland and at least 150 homes in the Canadian Prairie province but prevent an even worse disaster.

The Assiniboine flows from Saskatchewan eastward into Manitoba and has risen quickly due to rain and melting snow, resulting in a record-high level that would be expected only once in 300 years. The Canadian Army was called in earlier this week to help fortify dikes.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was to tour the area on Wednesday morning,

Provincial government officials said on Wednesday that they will likely open the dike on Thursday morning, but only if dikes are at risk of failing or a permanent channel can't divert additional floodwater from the river to Lake Manitoba.

The breach would flood 225 square kilometers, or about 55,600 acres.

The alternative would be to risk unplanned flooding over an area twice as large if the dike fails, Manitoba officials said, but they admit they can't be sure where the water will go even with a planned release.

Chuck Fossay, whose family has farmed north of Starbuck, Manitoba, for more than 100 years, is out of the flood's path if it moves as the province expects. But if it causes the smaller La Salle River to overflow, it's likely to swamp Fossay's grain and oilseed farm.

"Right now, we'll just wait and see how much damage is going to be done," he said. "Any time you're dealing with something new, you're wondering, can they control it?"   Continued...

<p>Work continues along Provincial Highway 331 as preparations are made to break the dike south east of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba May 11, 2011. REUTERS/Fred Greenslade</p>