Water gone, destruction remains
- Published on Friday, September 28, 2012
While the floodwaters have receeded since last summer, residents around Lake Manitoba are still cleaning up and still waiting for compensation promised to them by the provincial government.
By Kate Jackman-Atkinson
It’s been over a year since property owners around Lake Manitoba were inundated with water from the Assiniboine River and as they try to clean up and return to normal, they’re left wondering why the provincial government has turned its back on them.
Last summer, water levels in Lake Manitoba rose from a regular level of 812 feet above sea level to 817 feet as water from the Assiniboine River was diverted into the lake through the Portage Diversion.
Lake Manitoba isn’t naturally part of the Assiniboine’s watershed and much more water was pushed through the diversion than it was designed to handle. At the height of spring run-off, 52 per cent of the water in the Assiniboine River ended up in Lake Manitoba through the Portage Diversion.
Had the water not been diverted, most people feared the Assiniboine would have spilled over its banks, damaging property west of Portage la Prairie and through Winnipeg. With no outlet, the water level on the lake continued to rise and remained high for most of last summer.
When the water did recede, residents found severely damaged homes and properties as well as productive grazing and crop land full of reeds and bulrushes. For their sacrifice, land and business owners were told repeatedly by the provincial government that compensation would be a multi-year program.
The government’s solution last year was to dig a drainage channel from Lake St. Martin into Lake Winnipeg, but this didn’t have much of a direct impact on getting water out of Lake Manitoba. While much of the water was off the land by this spring, producers cite two years of drought, as opposed to any government action, as the reason behind falling water levels in the lake.
On Sept. 24, a number of Manitoba PC MLAs toured the west side of the lake to meet with those affected and better understand their situation and the positive and negative aspects of the provincial government’s response.
The group, including local MLA Stu Briese, spent two hours in Langruth speaking to farmers, ranchers and cottage owners about their present situation and the government’s response in the months since the flood.
Jonas Johnson was first to speak and his major concern was shared by most of those in attendance, the government has yet to announce any compensation for 2012. He explained, “Most people were pleasantly surprised with the compensation [last year], in many cases they expected less.”
While those affected received compensation for damages and to rehabilitate their tame pasture and hay land, they have received nothing for loss of income in 2012. With the land having been drowned out last year, they are unable to generate any income from it this year.
Grain farmers at the meeting expressed concern how crop insurance is dealing with their situation. Despite cropland being classified as a complete write off last year and being unable to seed it this year, producers still have to pay crop insurance premiums on the land for this year.
Producers felt that land within the “inundation zone”, a well-defined area according to provincial maps from the flood, should have been taken out of coverage for this year, since nothing could be grown on it in 2012.
While producers received compensation for tame pasture, they received nothing for native pasture. This land must still be rehabilitated but they have received no compensation to fund that work.
Darrel and Dee Dee Armstrong own a cottage development at Big Point, just east of Langruth. Prior to the flood, they had 86 cabins on their property. After the flood, only 18 are salvageable and all of the landscaping, trees and grass are gone.
Looking at the past two years, Darrel said, “This year is more stressful than last year. [Last year] we thought help was available.” Dee Dee explained, “The larger problem is how [the compensation programs] are run. With MASC and MAFRI, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing… The red tape is unbelievable, there are so many different places to apply, it’s not streamlined.” She, along with others, cited concerns over changes regarding what would be covered and by which entity.
Philip Thordarson, reeve of the RM of Lakeview, echoed concerns over changing messages from provincial departments. He said, “We get calls because people are told to ask their municipality. We’re struggling through and working it out as we go.” The RM is also facing challenges when it comes to property taxes since residents don’t want to pay regular taxes on land that can’t generate income.
While some municipalities received a grant to offset lower assessments, the RM of Lakeview’s assessment didn’t decrease enough to allow them to qualify for the grant.
While many felt the compensation in 2011 was fair, those with more productive land have appealed their assessment. One farmer has been waiting since March, when he received a letter saying his appeal has been received, to have a date set for his appeal.
Tom Teichroeb, an area rancher who chairs the Lake Manitoba Flood Rehabilitation Committee also talked about his experience with changing compensation. For most of the summer, Teichroeb’s home was surrounded by water and he took out the seals in his tractor travelling through mud every day for two months. He was originally told that he would qualify for compensation for the repairs but said, “Now it’s in limbo… I’m not sure why it would fall in and out of the programs.”
Teichroeb explained the situation in which most business find themselves, “Most businesses are in maintenance mode, we can’t make investments to grow our businesses.” It will take him two years to get his land back into shape to get all of his cattle home. Not only have people lost income, but with reassessments, they have also lost capital, which means they can’t take advantage of business opportunities.
As for multi-year compensation, Teichroeb said he would like to see compensation on a short fall program for the 200 affected producers around the lake. Such a program would compensate farmers for the difference between their present and pre-flood state.
Teichroeb would like to see a statement of support from government identifying all areas around the lake as good areas in which to do businesses. He also hopes to see a renewed passion for agriculture from the province’s leaders saying, “There needs to be a new passion within the [provincial] caucus and administration… [Agriculture] needs to be a much bigger priority.”
Looking at the bigger picture, all those affected by the flooding agree that the lake needs another outlet to remove the water that flows in from the Portage Diversion. Thordarson stressed this need saying that having an outlet will give the area security to rebuild. The need for an outlet was identified as a major need by 500 Lake Manitoba residents who responded to a Lake Manitoba Flood Rehabilitation Committee survey.
The group of MLAs then travelled up to Margaret Bruce Beach, north of Silver Ridge. Jim Bruce operates the beach on land that he leases from the provincial government. The site used to offer a lovely sand beach for swimmers and 33 campsites.
By spring of this year, the water was all gone but it had left 2’ of sand in the concession building and sand dunes all over the beach. Bruce has spent all summer cleaning up the beach but isn’t yet sure what he will do with the concession. If he rebuilds it, the province has said he’ll have to raise it by 5’.
Like others, Bruce received compensation for loss of income last year, but nothing for this year. The beach had no income in 2012 and he expects they’ll have about half their regular income next year. He also hasn’t yet received all of his compensation and says, “The money is coming, but I don’t know when.”
The group continued travelling north to the Narrows and on Sept. 25, continued back down the east side of Lake Manitoba to speak to area residents.