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Canadian Forces members reinforce a dike along the Assiniboine River, at Poplar Point, Man., on May 15, 2011. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
Canadian Forces members reinforce a dike along the Assiniboine River, at Poplar Point, Man., on May 15, 2011. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Dry weather helps stabilize Manitoba flood situation Add to ...

Dry, sunny weather was helping flood fighters in Manitoba where the province on Monday declared the swollen Assiniboine River was near its peak in western regions and would soon start to slowly drop.

The government also downgraded its plan to pump up to 3,000 cubic feet per second from a deliberate dike breach at the Hoop and Holler Bend near Portage la Prairie.

The water was still being allowed out - but at a rate below the initial 500 cubic feet per second announced last week. Officials said the flow would not top 1,000 cubic feet per second, barring any emergencies.

"(The change) will reduce the area in which the water will spread and will increase the time it will take to reach the La Salle River," Steve Topping, an executive director with the province's Water Stewardship department, said Monday.

The deliberate flood was already spreading very slowly since it began Saturday. On Monday, it was spreading like molasses in January.

The water had topped one road southeast of the dike break and had entered into a couple more farm fields. But it had not reached any additional homes. The same three homes that were surrounded by water, but not flooded, on Sunday remained safe. In total, the water had only spread 2.1 square kilometres since Saturday morning.

For the time being, the government was standing by its original estimate that the deliberate flood could threaten 150 homes, but that number could be reduced, according to Chuck Sanderson with the Emergency Measures Organization.

The water was moving so slowly, it is now expected to take well over a week to make its way into the La Salle River, a tributary of the less-swollen Red River system, near the town of Elie.

Despite the good news, officials warned there could still be trouble in the weeks to come.

"We have made significant progress … but by no means are we done with this yet," Infrastructure Minister Steve Ashton said.

One of the biggest concerns is along the shores of Lake Manitoba. Water on the lake is near record levels because of high natural runoff and water that is being diverted from the Assiniboine through a channel near Portage La Prairie.

Last week, strong winds from the north caused high waves to threaten lakefront cottage properties and prompted crews to ramp up sandbagging efforts. The calm summer-like weather on Monday meant the area was trouble-free, but Mr. Ashton warned the water will remain high on the lake for weeks, and any severe wind storms could cause damage.

In Brandon, the Assiniboine is expected to start dropping very slowly by the end of this week, but it could remain above low-lying areas, which are being protected by dikes, for weeks. Some 1,300 people who have been evacuated from the city's valley have yet to be told when they can return home.

Manitoba has battled flooding across the southern portion of the province since April, but its series of dikes, ditches and diversion channels have kept most of the water on fields and away from buildings.

Thousands of people were evacuated this season, mostly as a precaution, from aboriginal reserves where roads were being swamped. In all, roughly 100 homes have been flooded and only 10 have had water above the basement level.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, the worst fears of flood victims in the Montérégie region were realized on Monday as water levels on the Richelieu River and Lake Champlain began to rise again.

Water levels started to go up on Sunday with the arrival of renewed heavy rain and were expected to increase from 10 to 20 centimetres by midnight Tuesday, said Yvan Leroux, regional director of Public Safety for the area.

"Since last April 14, the region received 230 millimetres of rain - that's about double the normal for the same period," Mr. Leroux said.

Now the roughly 3,000 people who had hoped to return to their homes after being forced out are being urged to ensure that dams protecting their homes are still functional.

However, he was cautiously optimistic that the flooding would not spread to areas that had been spared.

Flood victims are also being relocated to Longueuil from hotels in St-Jean which have to honour previously made reservations.

Emergency services are still in place, including psychological counselling and 600 Canadian Forces troops.

About 1,000 families have received funds from the provincial government to the tune of about $2.2-million in total.

Several communities have been battered in recent weeks by the floods and in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu alone about 800 homes were affected.

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