Tag Archives: emergency

Profile: Blair Olafson, LMFRC member

Blair Olafson stands in front of the road that leads to The Narrows West Lodge boat launch, which is completely submerged.

Blair Olafson figures it will be two or three years before business is back to usual at The Narrows West Lodge.

The lodge, about 220 kms north of Winnipeg, has been in Olafson’s family since 1970 and his family can trace its roots in this area back to 1895. Never has anyone seen the water like this. Last month Olafson took his father and some friends for a boat tour of the damage. He was shocked to discover he could easily place a hand on The Narrows bridge as they cruised under it, when clearance of about 12 feet is normal.

But there is nothing normal about this summer at The Narrows West Lodge. Beautiful rental chalets face huge raised dikes instead of vast Lake Manitoba waters. The boat launch is gone, replaced by murky waters and green slime. Bottles, tires and anonymous debris stick out at odd and dangerous angles.

“The garbage is terrible, you can’t imagine it,” Olafson says. “Staircases, gazebos, play structures. It washes into us every day. And the stench is overpowering. I don’t know what makes that smell, but it can’t be healthy.”

The Narrows West Lodge provides several streams of income to Olafson, including fishing and hunting packages, bait fishing and camping, and they’ve all taken a hit. His revenue is down this year by about half. Just before the May long weekend, media reported high waters at The Narrows. TV stations showed a photo of The Narrows bridge covered in water and that, Olafson says, was the beginning of a desperate season.

“People haven’t even called. They just saw those photos and decided we weren’t open. We usually see 1,200 campers and this year, it’s been about 200. We usually have half a dozen weddings but this year, they were all cancelled.”

Every year, Olafson offers 45 spots for rent on his boat dock. This year, the boat dock is entirely submerged. Not only has he lost that guaranteed income, those boaters aren’t coming in because they don’t want to run their boats on shore and risk damage. More loss.

The lodge serves as the local gathering spot for coffee, beers, and everything in between. But neighbouring farms and communities, such as Reykjavik, have been evacuated for months. Business is slow, and the locals that arrive have only grim news to report.

“I was talking with two farmers, one is 77 years old, the other is probably 70. Well, they have all this lake property. They can’t sell this land. Who wants to buy it? And if someone wants to buy it, how do you value it? If the water goes down, if it goes back to its natural state, it’s going to take five, six, maybe seven years. A farmer retires with his land, that’s his pension plan. So what happens to these guys?” Olafson says.

Olfason is frustrated with the government’s coping abilities as the problems continue to rise due to the man-made flooding of Lake Manitoba. He says officials are spreading the word that compensation is being promptly doled out to local businesses and farmers, but the truth is another story. He offers up a tale that shows just how effectively compensation is being handled.

“They were using my equipment to pump water, 24 hours a day. Finally it came time I needed to be compensated. So I went to the municipality, because we directly did the original transaction. But they’re tapped out, of course, so they sent me to EMO. They pushed me to DFA. I’m not kidding! DFA sent me to MAFRI. Then I went to MASC. Believe it or not, they sent me back to the municipality. And they paid me there, but you know, they probably don’t have their own compensation for it either, they just felt badly for me and paid it out of pocket.”

While the frustration of trying to stay afloat keeps Olfason busy during the day, it’s fear that keeps him up at night. He cautions we haven’t seen the worst of it yet.

“I’m a commercial fisherman, I know ice. And when that ice comes in, there’s trouble. Ice and water are night and day. Sure, you can hold water back if you build the dike high enough, but ice will just torpedo right through. The ice will blast through those dikes and then the water will go through and do what it does.”

Considering provincial liabilities

By LMFRC member Oli Olson

The Manitoba Government, by running the Portage Diversion on the Assiniboine River, through times of excessive snow melt or rainfall, has been relatively successful at protecting the city of Winnipeg, and farmland en‐route. This diversion of waters from an unnatural source into Lake Manitoba has, at times, caused severe loss of economic opportunities, economic hardship, loss of property, and property damage to many Manitobans living along Lake Manitoba, and Lake St. Martin.

The present government has recognized this, and is considering its liabilities to those that have been sacrificed.

In an attempt to help relieve the flooding, the government has commenced to dredge a relief channel to help remove water from Lake St. Martin. At this time, the government is not committing to a relief channel for Lake Manitoba. Their plan is to let the Fairford River slowly handle the flow over an 8-month period, getting Lake Manitoba down to 813 ( 1 foot higher than the top-of-normal operating range) by next year’s flood season. Then, I assume, they hope for a drought, throughout southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan as the Fairford River Dam can only handle about one third of the Portage Diversion input, should there be the likely need to operate it. In this scenario the flooding and liabilities recycle.

The probabilities of again flooding for 2012 are most likely, as historic evidence shows the lake rises a minimum of 1.5 feet from pre-run off to early summer crest. Therefore the lake will again be put into flood levels.

The Fairford Dam, built in the 60s, is simply outdated. The requirements of today, and the increased drainage in the southwest, are far beyond its capacity. Additional drainage of Lake Manitoba must be constructed, or the continued flooding, and consequent annual liabilities to the taxpayer, will far exceed the cost of channel construction.

The emergency channel to lower Lake St. Martin will do very little to reduce liability, due to damage caused by flooding. Lake St. Martin is less than 8 per cent the size of Lake Manitoba, and a large portion of its shore line in the east and south-east has no development, or very little economic activity. The liabilities are minute compared to Lake Manitoba, which is settled all around, with ranching, and farming, and many large cottage developments, throughout.

The proposed costs to construct an additional channel to enhance drainage from Lake Manitoba range from $195‐330 million. Liabilities and compensation for 2011 alone will greatly exceed this. It is obvious that doing nothing to enhance the exhausting of water from Lake Manitoba, other than running the Fairford River Dam at its full capacity, will be the most expensive option for Manitoba taxpayers.

Lake Manitoba reps call for immediate action

(WINNIPEG, Manitoba) July 14, 2011 – The Lake Manitoba Flood Rehabilitation Committee (LMFRC) met with several members of the government to discuss both immediate and long-term solutions to the man-made flooding occurring in and around the Lake Manitoba area. The main concern of the LMFRC is the urgent need to lower the lake.

Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton wouldn’t specify exactly the route of the proposed channel, nor would he put a specific number to the volume the channel could be expected to move. While the minister said the channel would have to move several thousand cubic feet per second (cfs), the LMFRC says the channel must carry between 20,000 – 25,000 cfs to have the required affect. Both parties agree that time is of the essence.

“We should have a concrete plan early next week,” says Ashton. “We know we need to move quickly. Wave action is a huge issue, and then we have the ice coming.”

The LMFRC was pleased to meet with other officials from Water Stewardship, Emergency Measures Organization and Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives, who were generous with their time. However, many members wonder if the government is aware of the severity of the situation.

“We’re dealing with a disaster, and there’s no end in sight. Until we see the shovel in the dirt to build this channel, it’s hard not to be skeptical,” says Tom Teichroeb, Lake Manitoba Flood Rehabilitation Committee Chairperson. “At best, I would say we are cautiously optimistic.”

The Lake Manitoba Flood Rehabilitation Committee represents the 11 municipalities surrounding Lake Manitoba. It gives voice to the urgent needs of all residents and businesses for an immediate solution to the flooding. It seeks adequate and inclusive compensation for the rehabilitation of land, businesses and residential properties damaged by the man-made flooding of Lake Manitoba.