Government confirms its support of work to reduce flooding in Lake Manitoba as Indigenous people vow to slow it down
Frustration about the glacial slowness of the Lake Manitoba outflow channels project bubbled up from Manitoba rural councillors during the Association of Manitoba Municipalities annual meeting last week.
But Indigenous leaders, speaking at another forum, almost simultaneously threatened to slow the flood mitigation project even more.
That left the Progressive Conservative provincial government in the middle, trying to explain its lack of visible progress while pushing back at suggestions that new federal regulations should be allowed to drag out the process for years, and pushing back against the idea that Indigenous organizations have a veto over all infrastructure projects that could potentially affect them.
“If we get another flood, bigger than 2014, we’re not going to be prepared for it,” said rural councillor Stan Cochrane.
“I’m very concerned with what’s going on.”
Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler reiterated his government’s support for building the outflow channels, which are designed to allow water pumped into Lake Manitoba through the Portage Diversion to flow out at an equal rate down to Lake St. Martin and then to Lake Winnipeg.
“We are proceeding to build these two channels,” said Schuler.
“We are going to proceed with this.”
However, Premier Brian Pallister stepped in to voice his frustration with the federal Liberal government’s amendments to environmental approvals, requiring more consultation and study.
“The regulatory constraints they’ve introduced in the last while are making it harder to get consultations done,” said Pallister.
“It causes projects to take years and years and years to get done if they’re done at all…. I don’t think we should wait 15 more (years to complete the outflow channels).”
The federal amendments followed court decisions that suspended project approvals because various interested parties, including Indigenous people, were not seen to have been adequately consulted in earlier approvals.
The flooding problem along the shores of Lake Manitoba affects hundreds of farmers. The lake and shore are flat, so when floods cause the Portage Diversion to be used to flush water north from the Assiniboine River into the lake, and the outflow channel can’t flush out an equivalent amount of water, widespread flooding and damage to pastures, homes and cottages occur.
Some farms have lost hundreds of acres of pasture to flooding, along with permanent losses of land ruined by shoreline damage.
A downstream Indigenous community was also flooded and most of its people forced to flee after the 2014 flood.
However, Indigenous leaders from bands around Lake Winnipeg have condemned Pallister’s desire to expedite the approvals process. They claim their people have not been given adequate time for true consultations.
“I strongly encourage the province to reconsider this path,” said Association of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.
He described the province’s hopes to avoid years of delay in the approval as “bad faith” in regards to getting the approval of Indigenous people.
Some Indigenous bands are worried about the impact of the channels, seeing flooding possibly increasing and fishing possibly affected.
“It’s important that the government recognize our First Nations in the territory, our inherent rights and our sovereignty,” said acting Grand Chief Cornel McLean of the Treaty 2 Chiefs.
“We’re going to protect our lands.”