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Deliberate Manitoba flood stopped as water levels drop

Homes and Cottages along Provincial Road 320 are flooded and risk being damaged by large slabs of ice moving along the Red River after north of Selkirk, Man., on April 12, 2009.

Ruth Bonneville

Dropping water levels in the Assiniboine River are allowing crews to fill in a dike and stop the intentional flooding of a swath of agricultural land in southern Manitoba.

The province began the work at noon Friday and expected it to be complete within a few hours.

"The closure of the controlled release is possible because, although they are still very high, flows into the Portage Reservoir are dropping, and the Portage Diversion and Assiniboine River dikes are better able to manage the flows," the province said in flood bulletin.

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But the government cautioned that continued pressure on dikes and an expected rainstorm in two watersheds that feed into the Assiniboine could force the dike to be reopened.

"The closure cannot yet be considered permanent ... the option to reopen the controlled release must remain for at least another week."

The dike was cut last weekend to release some of the pressure from the swollen river and avoid a potential flood of hundreds of homes downstream. The flow was initially expected to surround about 150 homes and flood over 200 square kilometres, prompting frantic sandbagging and the use of hundreds of Canadian Forces troops.

But the cut has proved far less damaging than first feared. While the province warned it might have to release up to 3,000 cubic feet of water per second through the dike, the flow has remained about one-eighth that.

Only 3.4 square kilometres have been affected and three homes have been surrounded by water, but the province said there has been no damage to them.

"As planned, the water has moved east to the Elm River and it will then enter the La Salle River in the coming days," the bulletin said.

All of this is good news for Shae Doherty. The owner of Our Farm greenhouse near the Hoop and Holler bend where the dike was breached has been on edge for weeks, wondering if the deliberate flood would damage his home and destroy his livelihood.

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"In one way, I'm really excited that they're closing it so the water is not going to be on my property anymore," he said Friday. "On the other hand, I'm disappointed that they had to open it because my traffic has to come around a long way to the greenhouse."

And while his greenhouse is safe, protected behind piles of sandbags, Mr. Doherty said the rest of his land is under 1.5 metres of water in some areas.

"Hopefully it will start to dry up," he said. "But the water is already on my property and I've lost that land It's going to sit there for quite a while ... It's good that I'm able to move the product in the greenhouse but at the same time, once the greenhouse is finished, my vegetable crops, which I normally plant out there — it's going to be a bit of a tangle."

The province has come under fire for its decision to cut the dike in the first place. But Premier Greg Selinger has said the move took pressure off the waterway and gave troops a chance to strengthen and build up dikes farther along the river.

He said the province is working on a compensation package that will reimburse affected homeowners over and above regular disaster relief assistance.

The Assiniboine River is experiencing a "one-in-300-year" flood, officials say. But they say the worst appears to be over now that it has crested at virtually all points along the watershed.

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Since the flood season began in April, more than 3,600 people have been forced out of their homes across the province. Most of them were moved off aboriginal reserves as a precaution because the water was washing over roads.

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