$540 million committed to long-awaited outlet for Lake Manitoba

Water diverted from the Assiniboine River flooding farmland on the southern end of Lake Manitoba in 2014 (source: Iris Yuill)

The federal and Manitoba governments announced joint funding of up to $540 million on Monday to build permanent outlets for mitigating flooding around Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin.

Flooding caused major damage to homes, pastures, and farmland around the lakes in 2011 and 2014 after water was diverted from the Assiniboine River into Lake Manitoba to minimize the impact to communities downstream, including Winnipeg.

“After 60 years of inaction, we are proud to stand today alongside our partners in the federal government to announce this vital project,” said Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, standing beside federal Natural Resource Minister Jim Carr in St. Laurent, Man. “We are focused on completing this project in a timely fashion to better protect Manitobans who have sacrificed so much.”

The federal government is providing $247.5 million through its new Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, while the province has committed matching funds, plus an additional $45 million.

The project includes two 23-kilometre-long diversion channels: the Lake Manitoba Outlet Channel will run north from Watchorn Bay on Lake Manitoba to Birch Bay on Lake St. Martin; the Lake St. Martin Outlet Channel will run northeast from Lake St. Martin to Lake Winnipeg south of Willow Point. The price tag also includes two bridges and water control structures, a 24-kilovolt distribution line, and other highway adjustments.

Ranchers, farmers, cottage owners and communities around the lakes have been lobbying for infrastructure to manage water levels since 2011. The funding announcement and commitment to building the channels is welcomed by Manitoba Beef Producers (MBP.)

“MBP has strongly sought and supported the construction of outlet channels at Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin. Producers in the Interlake, around Lake Manitoba and beyond have repeatedly sacrificed their valuable production land to protect their fellow Manitobans, and this has placed a heavy toll on our industry,” says MBP president Ben E. Fox. “The steep financial costs to producers, caused by flooding, has forced many to leave the industry.”

The provincial cattle producer group notes flooding around the lakes has had a multi-year impact on pasture and forage land, and has limited beef herd expansion in the province.

Cattle operations will also be impacted by construction.

“In recognition of the long-term sacrifices of producers have made, and are still being asked to make for the greater good of fellow Manitobans to prevent catastrophic flooding, MBP requests these producers be compensated for the loss of land, and inefficiencies added to their operations due to the expropriation process,” says MBP.

The new Lake Manitoba outlet channel will carry up 7,500 cubic feet per second (cfs) water to Lake St. Martin when water levels are high. The Fairford River will still be the natural outlet to Lake St. Martin. The new Lake St. Martin outlet channel will replace the emergency channel, which has capacity for up to 4,000 cfs, moving up to 11,500 cfs of water directly to Lake Winnipeg, with the Dauphin River still serving as the natural outlet to Lake Winnipeg from Lake St. Martin.

“These are major flood management projects and will be as essential as the Red River Floodway and the Portage Diversion in provincial flood-fighting efforts,” said Manitoba’s Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler. “Manitoba is a collection point of major watersheds that start outside of the province but can result in widespread flooding, devastation, costly cleanup and years of restoration.”

The province says construction of an access road to the Lake St. Martin construction area is underway, and that the remainder of construction could start as soon as fall 2019.

Related:

Man. Farmers Flooded by Cut in Portage Diversion to Receive Compensation

Caught Between a Slough and a Floodplain — Why Drainage is Western Canada’s Next Big Fight

 

Kelvin Heppner

Kelvin Heppner is a field editor and radio host for RealAgriculture and RealAg Radio. He's been reporting on agriculture on the prairies and across Canada since 2008(ish). He farms with his family near Altona, Manitoba, and is on Twitter at @realag_kelvin. @realag_kelvin

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