Flood watch 2011 – officials say no cause for concern yet

Current weather conditions indicate catastrophe, but a lot can change over the next four months

Despite concerning factors and the recent snowfall, flood officials say there is no need for Winnipeggers to worry about high water levels yet. David Seburn

Current weather conditions, including an instant change from fall to winter after last week’s snowfall, have left some Winnipeg residents wondering what is in store for the 2011 flood season.

But, according to flood officials, it’s too early to tell.

“When the first flood forecast comes out in February, there is always a 10 per cent chance of the worst case scenario,” said Randy Hull, emergency preparedness coordinator for the City of Winnipeg’s water and waste department. “I don’t think we should burden ourselves worrying too much.”

Hull explained that there are usually six different weather factors that indicate the intensity of a flood.

He noted that before the snowfall, there were already two concerning factors at play: high saturation of the land due to excessive rain late into the year and high water levels.

Steve Topping, executive director for Manitoba Water Stewardship, agrees – although factors are high, there is no need for immediate concern.

“This past summer had extremely wet conditions,” he said. “What really topped it off was the Oct. 27 – Oct. 28 storm, where we had three inches of precipitation across southern Manitoba. Our reservoirs are full and we’re trying to empty them now to make room for spring melting.”

Topping and Hull, among others, were hoping that the river level would go down before the freezing weather, but even now Hull does not think there is too much to worry about.

“At the end of February we’d like a couple plus days, a couple minus, a couple plus, a couple minus to melt the snow gradually,” he said, noting that even if that is not the case, the city is ready.

“We’re confident in our ability to protect against future flooding.”

The Forks, one of Manitoba’s most notable tourist attractions, was affected by flooding this past year.

Paul Jordan, chief operating officer at The Forks’ variety of business operations, explained that with summer flooding, which has been occurring since 1993, people are not able to use the river walk connected to The Forks.

“The river walk was only open three weeks this year,” Jordan said. “Our traffic count is down 10 per cent when our river walk is closed – I have no idea what will happen if we have another year like we did this year.”

As for winter traffic, Jordan has high hopes for this year.

He asserts that the Assiniboine Credit Union River Trail, the Guinness record holder of the world’s longest naturally frozen skating trail, will be built this year, despite rumours to the contrary.

“Nobody’s ever said we’re not going to have the river trail,” he said. “The trail changes every year, and it means having part of the trail on ice and part on land.  I don’t know (about this year), but we will have an Assiniboine Credit Union River Trail.”

The first official flood forecast for 2011 will be in February, followed by a more solidified forecast in March. Regardless of what happens, Hull is assured that the city will be ready to go if flooding occurs.

“We don’t do anything physically ahead of time, but we are prepared,” he said. “We don’t make sandbags in the winter, but we do have sandbag sleeves on hand,” he said.

Published in Volume 65, Number 13 of The Uniter (November 25, 2010)

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