Southern Manitoba communities still recovering from last year’s flood brace for another one

Communities along the Red River in Manitoba are bracing for another major flood this spring, even as some still have not finished repairing damage from last year’s high water event.

The Rural Municipality of Montcalm, which surrounds southern Manitoba communities like Letellier and St. Jean Baptiste, still has about $10 million to $15 million worth of repairs left to make, said Reeve Paul Gilmore.

“Last year’s flood was quite damaging for our municipality,” he said.

The provincial government’s disaster financial assistance program will cover the cost of the damage, Gilmore said, “but we were sure anxious to get it done.”

“It was going to take two to three years to fix anyway, so this [year’s] flood is going to set us back again, and it’s not comforting.”

On Thursday, Manitoba flood officials released an updated forecast saying the Red River is expected to spill its banks in several places in the province this spring, but is not projected to rise high enough to threaten any communities protected by ring dikes.

That marked a change from earlier forecasts, raising the flood risk from moderate to major due to significant snowstorms in recent weeks in the U.S.

“We were a little surprised at the announcement, because just a few weeks ago we were told there was no major risk, and now all of a sudden there is,” Gilmore said.

Mounds of dirt can be seen in the foreground, with some water to the right side of the frame. In the distance, excavators and construction workers wearing high-visibility yellow clothing can be seen working.
Crews built an emergency dike in St. Adolphe last April in preparation of the expected flood. The Red River is not projected to rise high enough to threaten any communities protected by ring dikes this spring, Manitoba flood forecasters say. (Thomas Asselin/CBC)

The RM of Montcalm isn’t alone.

Chris Ewen, mayor of the Rural Municipality of Ritchot, says his municipality — which surrounds communities like St. Adolphe and Ste. Agathe — is also still dealing with about $2 million in repairs from 2022. 

Just over a third of the projects, which are focused on farmland and drainage, are still incomplete, said Ewen.

“We need to make sure that the farmers’ land is ready to go — cleaning out the drainage systems and just making sure that planting seasons are operational in the next month.”

The community sees high water every year, but last spring was the worst Ewen has ever seen, he said.

When it comes to dealing with the threat of this year’s flood, the Ritchot mayor says the municipality has good flood protection and emergency plans in place.

“Yes, it was extraordinarily different last year, because we saw much more damage and much more stress on our residents and our infrastructure,” he said.

“But it’s something that we always are preparing for, something we’re always ready for, because … we’re resilient and diligent, because we live along the Red [River].”

A man with brown hair and black-framed glasses leans on the railing of a balcony, looking out over a snowy field.
RM of Ritchot Mayor Chris Ewen, shown here in 2019 file photo, says last spring’s flooding was the worst he has ever seen in the area. (Ian Froese/CBC)

The worst-case scenario for this year would see a flood similar to the one in 2020, the provincial forecast says. Highway 75, Manitoba’s primary north-south trade route to the Canada-U.S. border, stayed open that year. Last year’s flood forced the highway closed for weeks.

How high the river gets depends on the weather between now and the spring melt. If conditions are dry and the snow melts gradually, the flood risk along the Red River could be downgraded to moderate, provincial officials say.

There is a low risk of significant flooding along Red River tributaries, including the Roseau, Rat and Pembina rivers, according to the province’s latest forecast.

The risk is moderate along the Assiniboine River and low on the Souris, its major tributary.