Flooding pounds western Manitoba

July 1, 2020, 4:50 am
Michele LeTourneau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Vehicles pass through flood water on Main Street in Minnedosa on Monday after heavy downpours Sunday evening into overnight caused widespread flooding. The swollen Little Saskatchewan River overflowed into downtown Minnedosa flooding several businesses and residences. (Tim Smith/The Brandon Sun)

Throughout the day Monday, rural municipalities declared local states of emergency as the damage and continuing threat caused by flooding became more and more evident in the light of day.

Sunday’s numerous, intense thunderstorms affected many communities up and down a front created by a weather system out of North Dakota.

Just prior to The Brandon Sun going to press, the Province of Manitoba stated in an email that it is monitoring the impact of this significant rainfall in a number of areas, including the City of Brandon, the rural municipalities of Oakview and Elton, and the Town of Minnedosa.

The RMs of Oakview and Cornwallis, as well as the municipalities of Riverdale and Clanwilliam-Erickson, declared states of local emergency due to flooding.

"Provincial staff have been deployed to monitor conditions at the Rapid City reservoir dam, which has been breached. Staff are using an excavator to widen the breach in order to prevent damage to the dam, if required," the province stated.

"A dike to the south has also been washed out."

The province reported that overland flooding on the Little Saskatchewan River through Rapid City affected multiple properties and multiple local and provincial road washouts were reported.

"Drivers should be cautious if travelling is necessary in the affected areas," the province stated.

"Voluntary evacuations have been reported in some areas where road access is limited."

The province also stated that Manitoba Infrastructure authorized the lowering of water in the reservoir at Rapid City to reduce levels on the Little Saskatchewan River.

"Flows are increasing on the Assiniboine River and tributaries, resulting in flooding in low-lying areas. A flood watch and high-water advisories have been issued for southwestern, western and central regions of Manitoba."

Further, additional precipitation is expected in western Manitoba in the next 24 to 48 hours, according to the province.

"Areas in southwestern Manitoba, including Brandon, could see up to 175 mm of rain in the next three to four days, including Monday."

Town of Minnedosa

"We’re well-flooded. The sad part is we’ve got people whose homes are in rough shape — not a home you want to walk into," said Mayor Pat Skatch, who is an old hand at dealing with seasonal flooding.

"That’s the misfortune, what it’s doing to people’s homes. And your home is your palace."

Skatch said every year offers the potential of flood, and some areas, like the golf course, are routinely flooded.

But rumours flew Monday that Minnedosa’s dam would fail under pressure of the heavy rainfall caused by Sunday’s thunderstorms. The town received 153 mm, the third-highest recorded rainfall after Oak River and Brandon.

The town is working closely with Manitoba Infrastructure, which owns the dam.

"I’m not concerned about it," Skatch said.

She explained a few logs were taken out of the dam to help release some of the excess water in the lake and relieve pressure on the dam. Skatch said she was waiting for confirmation from the province.

"But it (the dam) was repaired and stabilized two years ago, to the spillway and whatnot. Our dam structure is good. I think we’re OK," she said.

"Unfortunately, there’s lots of rumours and people have a tendency to panic. Trust me, we are not going to put anybody’s life in a dangerous situation. We’re going to stay on top of it."

However, minor foot bridges have disappeared and downtown Minnedosa is flooded.

"All over downtown, flooding all over the place. We’ve got lots of sandbags," she said.

"People are faring as best as can be expected. We have lots of people who have water in their basements. Some people have water, basically, in their homes. Some people were evacuated from their homes."

A few of those people were housed by the town, others went to stay with family or friends.

"We’re fortunate that way but, as time goes on, and the water’s still flowing and, of course, water is running where it shouldn’t run in …" Skatch said.

As for the possibility that Monday night would be a repeat of Sunday night, Skatch said: "Trust me, any drop that’s going to fall from the sky, we’re going to keep an eye on that drop."

"We’re well aware we could get some more moisture tonight.

"We’re well aware we could get some more moisture tomorrow. Unfortunately, with the humidex what it is, you and I both know what that brings."

Rural Municipality of Minto-Odanah

This rural municipality, which surrounds Minnedosa, also experienced the severe weather event’s assault, especially to the north of town. A local state of emergency was also declared there.

"We have quite a bit of damage," said chief administrative officer Aaren Robertson.

"We’ve got some huge washouts on some of our roads. As soon as the water goes down, we’ll be working to open them again. Some people have a long reach to get anywhere, now, if they can get out at all.

Rolling River First Nation

Elvin Hunting Hawk, band manager for Rolling River First Nation, said the reserve got a lot of rain, but it generally drained pretty quickly.

"We’re pretty much on high ground, in most areas. But there’s one area that’s kind of a flood zone," he said.

Approximately a dozen families live in that area.

"A few houses have been affected by the water — basements flooded," Hunting Hawk said.

"The problem is, over time, after you clean it out, it creates a mould issue. The other cost for us is getting that cleaned up again."

The families remain in their homes.

"We have a pumper truck and we just go and pump the basement out," said Hunting Hawk.

Rural Municipality of Oakview

The Rural Municipality of Oakview declared a state of emergency Monday morning in the aftermath of severe thunderstorms Sunday night.

A failed dam, washed-out roads, flooded farm yards and damaged infrastructure are top of the list of the storm’s effects in the area.

"The town of Rapid City was not only hit with the windstorm, but they were also hit with the heavy, heavy flooding, which has impacted the dam," said chief administrative officer Marci Quane.

"That is now impacting everything downstream of that."

Along with Rapid City, Oakview includes the towns of Oak River, Cardale and Basswood.

"Throughout the whole municipality, we’ve been taking reports of road washouts, infrastructure problems," Quane said.

By noon, the municipality had received almost three dozen reports.

Reports of a tornado, Quane said, came from three miles southeast of Rapid City.

"Everyone’s safe. It did affect quite a few farm yards, and a couple of homes, as well, but emergency services have reported that everybody is safe," Quane said.

"Right now, we’re just trying to get a grasp on what the damage is. We’re trying to document and hear from our ratepayers. Then we are definitely going to need help with the cleanup."

Quane said the entire municipality has damage, but Rapid City was the hardest hit community.

"But we expect to hear reports of the widespread damage due to heavy rain over the next few days," she said.

Riverdale Municipality (RM of Daly and the Town of Rivers)

The Town of Rivers saw 135 mm of rain drive down from the skies Sunday night. It has also declared a state of emergency.

"We’ve got flooding. We’ve got bridge problems and culvert problems," Mayor Todd Gill said. "Roads washed out."

Rivers also has a dam and Lake Wahtopanah, also known as Rivers Reservoir, to worry about. The reservoir rose five feet overnight.

"We’ve got significant problems there," he said.

"As much as the municipality is high and dry, we’ve got some real problem areas that are creating havoc for the motoring public."

Properties in the area are also experiencing flooding.

As for threats of a Monday night repeat, Gill said: "I hope not. We can’t stop that. We’ll have to deal with that the best we can."

He said the dam is fine, though, and that Manitoba Infrastructure has been monitoring at the lake.

"From my understanding, they’re not concerned about the structural integrity. I understand Rapid City’s has failed and we’ve seen a rush of water from that community."