MARQUETTE, Man. — Landowners, ranchers and politicians are voicing frustrations over what they view as provincial government neglect and incompetence regarding the province’s third largest lake.
About 350 people packed into a community hall Feb. 22 near the south shores of Lake Manitoba to protest what they say is lack of compensation for the 2011 flood.
That was the year when near record high water levels on Lake Manitoba spilled the banks and turned surrounding pasture and hayland into marshes and holding ponds.
Unlike most floods, this one was deliberate. The provincial government diverted billions of litres of water from the Assiniboine River into Lake Manitoba to prevent severe flooding downstream in Portage la Prairie, Man.
However, many acres of pasture and hayland near the lake remained flooded last year, forcing ranchers to sell part of their herds or truck in hay from other areas.
The provincial government promised during the height of the 2011 flood to compensate landowners around the lake for multiple years, said Tom Teichroeb, a cattle rancher from Langruth, Man., who helped organize the meeting in Marquette.
Affected producers say they haven’t received compensation for their losses in 2012.
“The government made those promises,” provincial Progressive Conservative leader Brian Pallister said at the meeting. “They (landowners) have been adversely affected by a flood not of their own making … and this situation calls for fulfillment of those promises.”
Speakers at the meeting said the government must also take action to ensure that flooding won’t be a recurring problem around the lake.
Bill Finney, a cattle rancher from Eddystone, Man., said the situation is particularly troubling for farmers who want to retire. Land values around the lake have plummeted, in some cases by 50 percent, because buyers must assume the risk of future floods, he said.
Several speakers said part of the solution is to complete and expand channels at the north end of the lake, which would move excess water into Lake Winnipeg.
Others said something must be done to curb agricultural drainage upstream from Lake Manitoba.
“The drainage going on in Saskatchewan … is horrific,” said Robert Sopuck, MP for Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette.
Stan Struthers, Manitoba’s finance minister, defended the province’s actions. He said the government spent about $1.25 billion on flood mitigation and compensation for the 2011 flood, which he called a substantial figure.
The province also asked Ottawa last summer to share the cost of compensating landowners for 2012 but there has been no response, Struthers said.