WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Manitoba will go ahead on Saturday morning with a much-delayed deliberate breach on its Assiniboine River dike, swamping some homes and farms in the Canadian province to avoid a bigger, unplanned flood.
Opening the dike will flood at least 225 square kilometers (55,600 acres) and 150 homes, while taking the pressure off strained dikes.
“Our intention is to keep this to a slow, controlled flow,” said Steve Topping of the province’s water stewardship branch, adding that a dry forecast will help contain the flood.
Across Manitoba, 3,300 people have left their homes because of the threat of flooding, including 1,400 in Brandon, the province’s second-largest city. About 100 homes are flooded, mostly on Indian reserves.
“I don’t want to underestimate the amount of anxiety, the amount of stress going on,” said Steve Ashton, Manitoba’s infrastructure and transportation minister. “This is historic, unprecedented, a completely new flood of record.”
About 1,500 soldiers arrived in Manitoba this week to help fortify dikes.
The floodwaters are moving into the province from rivers in Saskatchewan and the U.S. northern Plains that are swollen because of heavy winter snowfall, spring rain and already-saturated ground.
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger was planning a live TV address on Friday evening.
To contain flooding along the Assiniboine, Manitoba is forcing about one-third more water than normal capacity through the Portage Diversion, an engineered channel that has been fortified to carry the extra flow, and divert it into Lake Manitoba.
That move has eased pressure on dikes, but is swamping pasture land around the lake and forcing ranchers to move cattle -- some likely as far as the neighboring province of Saskatchewan.
Some ranchers have estimated they may need to move up to 100,000 cattle, or about 9 percent of Manitoba’s herd. The provincial government has estimated the number of cattle to move in the thousands.
“On our farm, the pastures are all going under water,” said Joel Delaurier, who lives near Eddystone, Manitoba. On Friday, Delaurier kept his son home from school to help move 600 animals, or half of his herd, to pasture where they can graze.
“They’ll just starve to death if we leave them here.”
Manitoba is the fifth-largest cattle-producing province in Canada, which is the world’s No. 3 beef shipper.
Delaurier, whose farm is nearly 100 years old, said his family has never seen Lake Manitoba so high.
“We’re being sacrificed here.”
The lake’s edge has crept to within 75 yards of Delaurier’s house, requiring construction of a five-foot high clay dike.
The eastern province of Quebec has also seen major flooding this spring, with thousands of homes swamped along the Richelieu River between Montreal and the U.S. state of Vermont.
Water levels on the Richelieu as well as in Lake Champlain have been receding, but they could rise again from several days of rain expected to start this weekend.
Additional reporting by Randall Palmer in Ottawa; editing by Rob Wilson