May 12, 2011 / 2:51 PM / 6 years ago

Manitoba delays deliberate flood to Saturday

<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>

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Manitoba has pushed back plans to intentionally breach a dike along the Assiniboine River to Saturday morning as flood defenses in the Canadian province looked strong and it made plans to divert more water from the swollen river.

The plan to intentionally flood 225 square kilometers (55,600 acres) -- a rural area one-third the size of the city of Toronto that includes 150 homes -- has generated sharp criticism of the provincial government, which faces an election this fall.

Manitoba officials have said there is no real alternative to the intentional flooding as that would ease pressure on the dike and possibly prevent an unplanned rupture that could swamp twice as much land.

Steve Ashton, Manitoba’s minister of infrastructure and transportation, said on Thursday that quick fortification of dikes by soldiers and volunteers has effectively contained the swollen Assiniboine.

That has allowed the province to delay the dike breach several times as it fights flooding of a severity said to occur only once every 300 years.

Ashton also said the government can divert as much as one-third more water off the river through an engineered channel than its normal capacity, because of fortifications there.

Those measures will allow officials to delay opening the dike and will also let them release water on Saturday at a much more gradual rate than first planned.

“Because of the heroic efforts we’ve seen ... we are as prepared as possible,” Ashton told a news conference.

Area residents have scrambled to protect themselves from the deliberate flooding after Manitoba hastily raised flood projections earlier this week due to rain.

Some have complained the “act of government” would sacrifice some properties to order save others.

But Ashton said the same area that will be deliberately flooded would be even worse off in case of an unplanned dike break.

“This is not a matter of trading off one area against another.”

The flood will reach Gilles Legault’s farm near Elie, Manitoba a day or two after the dike opens. His home is high enough that it should stay dry, but it’s unlikely he’ll plant his 3,000 acres this spring to cash in on high grain prices.

“We’re talking weeks (of floodwater) here, so if I don’t get my crop in when the commodity prices are where they are right now, a year where I can make some money, that’s going to be a huge loss,” Legault said. “It’s going to be hard watching people seed all the way around you.”

Legault has already moved 260 head of cattle to higher ground.

Across Manitoba, 3,200 people have left their homes because of flooding, including 1,300 in Brandon, the province’s second-largest city.

About 1,300 soldiers arrived in Manitoba this week to help fortify dikes.

Manitoba’s western neighbor, Saskatchewan, is also seeing major flooding of farmland due to rain and spring melting on already-saturated ground.

Much of Saskatchewan’s floodwater drains into the Assiniboine and heads east into Manitoba, where the river meets the Red River in Winnipeg, the provincial capital.

Winnipeg is well protected this year.

In the United States, rising floodwaters on the Mississippi River have also displaced thousands of people and flooded much more farmland -- 3 million acres.

Manitoba has spent at least C$75 million ($77.3 million) fighting floods this year.

Editing by Rob Wilson

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