11/01/2011 03:32 EDT | Updated 01/01/2012 05:12 EST

$100M emergency channel to drain flood water from Lake Manitoba opens

WINNIPEG - A $100-million emergency channel to drain flood water from two swollen Manitoba lakes is now open.

The 6 1/2-kilometre-long channel is intended to bring down the levels on Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin throughout the winter. The excess water will be diverted into Lake Winnipeg.

The province will look at building a second waterway, at a cost of $60 million, to further ease pressure on the lake during the spring melt.

Premier Greg Selinger says the channels will ease pressure on flooded lakeside homes and minimize the risk of more devastating flooding next spring.

"This year's unprecedented flood fight is not over," Selinger said in a release. "We remain committed to providing fair compensation to affected families as we undertake projects to protect everyone from future natural disasters."

The province announced the channel's construction in July and started carving it out of a watery bog in the remote northern location at the end of August.

Selinger said at the time that he hoped Ottawa would cover 90 per cent of the construction cost under disaster assistance, but the province wasn't waiting for assurances from the federal government before digging began.

For weeks this spring and into the summer, the province struggled to contain the swollen Assiniboine River by operating the Portage Diversion well over its capacity. The channel funnels water from the river into Lake Manitoba.

That pushed water levels up on the lake, which cut off roads and caused considerable damage when spring storms whipped up waves that slammed into homes and cottages.

Some 2,000 people were forced from their homes on the shores of Lake St. Martin and Lake Manitoba. Hundreds of residents from the Lake St. Martin First Nation are still under an evacuation order as officials look to move the reserve permanently to higher ground.

Engineers hired by the province called the flood a one-in-2,000-year event on Lake Manitoba and predicted people could be out of their homes for another year unless the province took immediate action.