Long sought-after channel between Manitoba lakes gets approval

Ottawa and the Manitoba government plan to build an outlet channel at the north end of Lake Manitoba.

The decision follows years of debate and discussion.

At a press conference in St. Laurent, Man., a Metis community about 80 kilometres north of Winnipeg, Premier Brian Pallister announced the province and federal government will spend $540 million to build a drainage channel connecting Lake Manitoba to Lake Winnipeg.

The federal government share is expected to be $247.5 million. Manitoba will cover the rest.

“We are focused on completing this project in a timely fashion to better protect Manitobans who have sacrificed so much,” said Pallister.

Farmers and cottage owners have lobbied for action on the drainage channel since 2011, when high water levels on Lake Manitoba destroyed property and farmland near the lake.

In 2011, the provincial government diverted billions of litres of water from the Assiniboine River into Lake Manitoba, using a water control structure at Portage la Prairie.

The NDP government at the time said the diversion was necessary to prevent flooding of the Assiniboine River, downstream at Portage la Prairie.

The decision angered landowners around the lake, who felt their livelihoods and properties were sacrificed to save farmland and communities along the Assiniboine River.

They also argued that an outlet was needed at the north end of Lake Manitoba, to manage water levels on the lake.

The matter became a political issue when the NDP government issued a report, claiming that diverting water from the Assiniboine did not cause high water levels on Lake Manitoba. The report angered cattlemen who lost pastureland and hayland in the summer of 2011.

In 2013, the NDP promised to build the channel but they failed to arrange shared funding with the federal government.

The project stalled but cattle producers didn’t let the issue drop.

“We just want to make sure that our (political) candidates stay committed to seeing this outlet project get completed,” said Heinz Reimer, Manitoba Beef Producers president, during the 2016 provincial election.

The drainage project, once built, will feature two 23 km channels. One will connect Lake Manitoba to Lake. St. Martin and the other will move water from Lake. St. Martin to Lake Winnipeg.

“The project will significantly reduce the flood damage experienced by First Nations located along Lake St. Martin,” the province said. “(And) ensure a more comprehensive provincial water control network that enables the province to effectively manage flows from the Assiniboine River and Lake Manitoba watersheds spanning Manitoba, southeast Saskatchewan and northeast North Dakota.”

Construction of an access road to Lake St. Martin is underway. Work on the channels will likely begin in 2019.

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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