The Winnipeg River is flowing at a record volume in Manitoba because authorities have no choice but to control flooding over a large swath of northwestern Ontario and northern Minnesota.
Flooding from the Winnipeg River, which flows at around three and a half times its usual volume at this time of year, has already forced hundreds of people from their homes and washed out roads in Whiteshell Provincial Park.
This is the result of inflows that are only expected to increase in the next few days, pushing water levels up to two-thirds of a meter higher in some places in Manitoba.
“We are seeing record inflows into the Winnipeg River system, inflows that we have never seen before,” said Scott Powell, director of communications for Manitoba Hydro.
According to the Lake of the Woods Board of Control, the river was flowing at 120,000 cubic feet per second Tuesday at Seven Sisters Falls, which is more than the water that tumbled down the Red River this spring at the height of the flood in This year.
Officials on both sides of the Manitoba-Ontario border say the volume is unprecedented, but no agency can do anything to reduce the flows.
The river drains an area larger than the Maritimes and nearly all of it is flooded, said Matthew DeWolfe, executive engineer with the Lake of the Woods Control Board.
“There’s literally nowhere else to put the water,” DeWolfe said Tuesday in an interview from his office in Ottawa.
“Basically the watershed is full and there’s nowhere to go except to flow downstream, and unfortunately this whole area is pouring into this very narrow channel that we call the Winnipeg River.”
The Lake of the Woods Board of Control is responsible for managing the water levels of Lake of the Woods, which empties directly into the Winnipeg River, as well as Lac Seul, which empties into the Winnipeg River via the English River. .
The council was forced to release water from Lac Seul because a dam on that lake could be threatened if the water rises above the maximum level, DeWolfe said.
Lake of the Woods Rise
The council also drains as much water as possible from Lake of the Woods, where the lake’s level has now risen to the point where wave action in its southern basin threatens residential properties and farmland in Minnesota, Ontario. and a small corner of Manitoba. , Buffalo Point, which juts out into the lake.
“This area is very flat and it’s a very unstable shoreline,” DeWolfe said, explaining that the southwest shore of Lake of the Woods is grassy and shallow like a prairie lake, not rocky and steep like Kenora. .
“It’s a very open bay at the south end of Lake of the Woods and when the winds, when they pick up, they create huge waves.”
In its latest forecast for Lake of the Woods, the control commission expects the lake to rise another 10 to 13 centimeters over the next week. At the same time, flows from Lac Seul continue to be high.
That means flows along the Winnipeg River are expected to continue to increase for several more weeks, DeWolfe said.
“It’s a very, very gradual rate of climb right now unless we get a significant amount of precipitation,” he said, adding that he couldn’t predict with certainty when the waters will retreat, given the large flooded area.
“We are dealing with conditions that have never been seen before, so there is nothing to compare.”
Hydro can’t hold it back
Manitoba Hydro, which operates six dams on the Winnipeg River west of the Ontario border, does not have the capacity to hold water, said communications manager Scott Powell.
“These are run-of-the-river plants, as we call them. We don’t have large tanks in front of any of our stations on the Winnipeg River,” Powell said Tuesday in an interview.
“So as those flows come in, we have to bring them down into the river, through our weirs, through our power plants and through our turbines and keep bringing them down to move that water,” he added. .
“No matter what we do in certain places, there is a limit to how fast certain areas of the river will drop due to natural restrictions in the natural watercourse.”
On Tuesday, Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation officials said they are focused on the safety of landowners and will consider a compensation program later.
Jay Doering, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Manitoba, said cottage owners along the Winnipeg River may have to start making some of the same decisions owners in the Red River Valley made after the 1997 Flood of the Century destroyed or damaged thousands of homes.
“You have to have this reality: am I going to rebuild or am I going to walk away from this,” Doering said in an interview on Tuesday.
“And if I’m able to rebuild it and lift it higher, is it going to look ridiculous on stilts?”
Powell said he would not yet speculate on whether to move or raise cottages or homes along the Winnipeg River.
“It’s certainly the highest inflows we’ve seen since 1907 when recordings started, so it’s definitely not a common occurrence,” he said.