Right in the centre - Waiting and watching


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

After one of the snowiest and coldest winters in my memory, I hope that everyone is on alert for what the next six weeks may bring. I hope that RMs and towns are ready for what the weather may throw at us. A quick look to Nebraska this week will show us that we need to be ready.

Certainly the Red River Valley is in for a rough go again this spring. However, closer to home, there may be trouble too. I worry about the integrity of the man-made dams at Minnedosa, Rivers and Neepawa. The latter two earthen dams with concrete spillways are about 60 years old. The Minnedosa dam is much older and it did burst in 1948. Hopefully these dams, and others, have been maintained and inspected. About 20 years ago, a dike and a smaller dam, the one at Park Lake in Neepawa, nearly burst. The number of homes that would have been affected wasn’t large, but there could have been a lot of damage.

The Whitemud River is pretty small, but flooding will likely take place at many spots, including Neepawa, Arden, Gladstone, Woodside and Westbourne.

Every time there is a flood, people “talk” about water retention ponds and yet, little happens. It would seem to make sense to retain water and then irrigate in dry seasons and dry years. Few do it because it is very expensive. It’s a lot cheaper, in the short run, to drain land than to build water retention dams and ponds.

The Big Grass Marsh area will almost certainly get hit this year, as there would appear to be a lot of snow in the catchment area and it all has to accumulate for a while in the marsh. It is a problem that farmers and ranchers have been coping with for over 100 years.

On the edge of our paper’s coverage area, it is reported that the Assiniboine River may be in better shape than some areas, but we can be assured there will be flooding all along that river. Many people have forgotten, if they ever knew, that the Portage Diversion and the Shellmouth Dam were the only two projects that were completed along the Assiniboine many years ago. There was at least one other project that was rejected for a variety of reasons. Until the early 1950s, the Assiniboine River crossing on PTH 34, north of Holland, was not a bridge, but a ferry boat. The current bridge was also supposed to be the site of a huge water retention dam that might have backed the water up for 20 miles. I was told it wasn’t built due to cost and the amount of river flats farmland that would have gone forever underwater.

The reality is that parts of central Manitoba are basically a big bath tub and the drain hole is at Winnipeg. There is nothing that can be done to change the geography. Winnipeg, Portage, Brandon and many other places are simply built in the wrong spots. The early dependence on the rivers for water and transportation made for convenient construction, not strategic building. It’s too late to change that.

It would take a major shift in government, and perhaps voter thinking, but we need to move on with a number of initiatives. Some farmland simply should not be farmed. Some can be farmed on an at-own-risk basis, but shouldn’t be covered by crop insurance. There should be tax and development incentives to build water retention structures. As much as farmers will hate me for saying it, farm land drainage and bush clearing needs to be curbed. That said, it’s almost impossible and very costly to enforce. How do you tell a land owner, or a land buyer, that they can’t clear bush, drain sloughs, bury the rock piles in the sloughs and then fill them in?

I have been watching the effects of our current policies for over 60 years; as a child, I was fascinated by spring run-off and the effect that water had on the land and crops. Given the limits of geography and money, we can’t control as much as we might like to think we can. We can stay safe and sensible this spring and I encourage everyone to do so.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer president of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being  the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.