POLITICS

Manitoba forecasters say cold spring increasing the risk of flooding in Winnipeg

04/16/2014 10:59 EDT | Updated 06/16/2014 05:59 EDT
WINNIPEG - Manitoba flood officials say the prolonged cold spring is making flooding more likely for a few homes in Winnipeg.

The Red River is cresting upstream from the capital, but ice hasn't melted enough to open the floodway which diverts water around the city.

Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said the amount of ice in the water is also pushing the river level up in south Winnipeg. A handful of low-lying homes may need ring dikes and other flood protection.

"We're able to operate the floodway in open water scenarios," he said at a flood briefing Wednesday.

"The ice on the Red River is, in many cases, three feet-plus thick still. I can testify, coming from northern Manitoba, that's probably the kind of thickness you would expect to see on our winter roads into remote, northern communities."

Grant Mohr, flood planning engineer with the City of Winnipeg, said three properties require about 2,300 sandbags.

"We continue to monitor river levels and will adjust our plans accordingly," he said in a statement.

The weather in Manitoba has been so cold — some 15 degrees colder than normal — that spring hasn't even arrived in many parts of the province. Steve Topping, the province's executive director of hydrologic forecasting and water management, said the spring thaw has been put on hold in many regions.

"We're in a deep freeze and the melt has basically abated. Run-off is declining on all our tributaries except for the Red River and the Assiniboine River," he said.

"In many parts of the province, the run-off hasn't even started. The snow pack still exists."

Icebreakers have been out to reduce the chance of ice jams and are ready to be deployed again in Winnipeg if necessary, Topping said.

But other than the prolonged cold, Ashton said officials aren't expecting any significant precipitation to exacerbate flooding.

The general flood risk is relatively low and officials aren't expecting to close Highway 75 this year — a key corridor to the United States which is frequently closed by flood waters.

"The cold weather, it's real, it's having an impact right here in the city of Winnipeg," Ashton said.

"The good news is warmer weather is on the way and we're still looking at very localized flood situations in the province. We're not looking at the generalized flood scenarios we saw either in 2009 or 2011."

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said river was cresting downstream.