Water diversion report angers Manitoba farmers

Farmers around Lake Manitoba are frustrated with the provincial government, which is diverting billions of litres of water from the flooded Assiniboine River into the lake. Landowners want the province to construct a drainage channel from Lake Manitoba to Lake Winnipeg to control water levels.  |  Robert Arnason photo

Manitoba forecasters said in a July 18 flood bulletin that water flows on the Assiniboine River are dropping.

They also said that the amount of water diverted into Lake Manitoba will be reduced for the remainder of the summer.

As well, the province said Lake Manitoba will peak at 814.8 feet above sea level in early August, a couple of feet below maximum levels during the flood of 2011.

The prediction is little comfort for landowners around the lake who have been angry at the province for three years.

In 2011, the province diverted billions of litres of water from the Assiniboine River into Lake Manitoba. Farmers said the deliberate flooding inundated hay, pasture and residential property around the lake and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage and lost production.

Last fall, the province fueled the landowners’ anger when it released a report claiming water from the Portage Diversion contributed little or nothing to the 2011 flood of Lake Manitoba.

“What the report also shows is the degree to which the operation of the Portage Diversion had very minimal impact on the lake,” Manitoba transportation and infrastructure minister Steve Ashton said in October.

“I think it had an impact, according to the report, of .09 feet.”

The report claimed that flood water from the Assiniboine would have naturally spilled into Lake Manitoba if the Portage Diversion didn’t exist. Therefore the billions of litres of water that flowed through the diversion channel into the lake didn’t make a difference.

Scott Forbes, a University of Winnipeg biologist who studies fish and fisheries, said the province’s reasoning is outlandish.

“It defies common sense. Everyone knows that when the Portage Diversion was opened that Lake Manitoba (levels) in 2011 went straight up,” he said.

“What the province has tried to do is to rewrite history…. The argument of whether it is a natural flood or not is really a mug’s game. What do you define as natural? Do you define natural the landscape as it was in 1750, before there were farming operations and draining land?”

Forbes said it’s clear that moving water from a river for weeks and dumping it in a lake will cause lake levels to rise.

“There’s no way in God’s green earth that Lake Manitoba would have risen four feet in three months without the Portage Diversion.”

About the author


Stories from our other publications