Manitoba delays deliberate flood to Saturday

Thu May 12, 2011 6:03pm EDT
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By Rod Nickel

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.   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>