12/21/2011 12:15 EST | Updated 02/20/2012 05:12 EST

Manitoba Liberal leader calls for independent review of flooding

WINNIPEG - Manitoba Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard is calling for an independent review of the government's handling of this year's flooding and blames the NDP for much of the devastation and confusion that hit residents.

"There were poor water management approaches in Manitoba and there was a failure to build an improved channel capacity," Gerrard said Wednesday.

He released a 28-page report of his own that accused the government of failing to protect towns, cities and rural areas. Record-high river flooding that threatened Brandon in the spring would have caused less trouble had the government lived up to a 2006 promise to build up the city's dike, Gerrard suggested.

A declining number of wetlands added to the fast and heavy runoff across southwestern Manitoba, he said, and high water levels that soaked homes along Lake Manitoba could have been prevented had the government expanded an outlet to Lake Winnipeg. That project has been talked about since the 1970s.

Gerrard was joined by residents of Twin Lakes Beach, a community on Lake Manitoba in which many homes were destroyed. Some residents complained they have been battling red tape to get compensation.

"Almost all of us made the choice that the lake was going to be something that we would invest in. It was going to be part of our retirement plan. It was going to be our way of life. That is all totally destroyed now," said Dennis Turek.

"My building was demolished in October and...I haven't heard a thing. The reply I got was that the government-appointed appraiser was having a problem coming up with a number."

Steve Ashton, the minister for Manitoba's Emergency Measures Organization, has already promised an independent review and said Wednesday the team will be announced early in the new year.

But it's unclear how independent of government the review committee will be.

"Government employees are going to be very much a part of reviewing it," Ashton said. However, academics and experts in the private sector, such as engineers, will probably be involved as well, he added

"We've committed to an independent review and...an independent review will be people at arm's-length from the decisions that were made."

Flooding this year was the most widespread in Manitoba's history. Water came from the west and the south, raising the Assiniboine River to record levels and pouring into lakes. Thousands of people had to flee their homes and cottages in the late spring. Many are still unable to return.

Damage estimates have topped $800 million and may still increase.

The sudden rush of water in May caught forecasters off guard and led to a rushed sandbagging job in Brandon. It also prompted the province to cut a hole in a dike at the Hoop and Holler Bend south of Portage la Prairie to ease pressure on the Assiniboine River. Area residents were told to leaver and the cut was expected to flood a large swatch of land. But in the end only a few hectares were washed out and water levels ended up lower than expected.

Ashton, who said there were many successes in the flood fight, doesn't accept Gerrard's criticism at face value.

"We've done a lot of work on building up our dikes, building up our protections," Ashton said.

"We've added (ice-breaking) Amphibexes. We've added various flood tubes. We've got a lot more pumps in the system."