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Guenther: Prairies get ready for runoff

Flood risks rise again in Manitoba, high runoffs expected in Sask.

As cool weather delays spring runoff and flood risk rises in parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, now is the time to prepare for flooding.

Manitoba officials on Thursday released an updated flood forecast that predicts the Red River could be up to a foot higher than in 2009 if the snow melts quickly.

Snow in North Dakota, along with delayed spring melt, has raised the risk of flooding along the Red River, according to Manitoba's Hydrologic Forecast Centre. The U.S. National Weather Service predicts the Red River will crest in mid-May, which could delay cresting in Manitoba until late May.

In 2009, about 250 farms and homes in the Red River Valley were evacuated, and evacuations are expected this year as well.

Manitoba's earlier flood outlooks showed the Interlake region, between Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg, was trending toward 2009 flood levels.

Snow in Saskatchewan and cool temperatures boosted flooding risk on the Assinboine and Souris rivers, which may see moderate or major flooding. The Qu'Appelle, Pembina, and Roseau rivers are also at risk of moderate to major flooding.

To prepare for the flood, two million sandbags, six sandbagging machines, 17,000 super sandbags, 50 km of water-filled barriers, 34 mobile pumps and 43 km of Hesco cage barriers have been distributed throughout the province. All municipalities have emergency response plans.

Manitoba farmers who need to move livestock or grain can apply for a spring road restriction permit through the agriculture department's local GO offices or by phoning 1-877-812-0009. Staff at GO offices can also help livestock producers find alternate sites if they need to move animals to higher ground.

Manitoba's flood forecasts and additional information are available online.

Parts of Sask. likely to flood

The flood forecast map from Saskatchewan's Water Security Agency shows flooding is likely in a large area that includes Weyburn, Indian Head, Regina, Moose Jaw, and stretches south.

Another area, encompassing Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Waskesiu Lake, Spiritwood and North Battleford, also has a high flooding risk. Everywhere south of La Ronge will have above-normal or well-above-normal runoff levels.

Saskatchewan residents, municipalities, and businesses can apply for the 2013 emergency flood damage reduction program. The program will reimburse individuals for 85 per cent of the cost of approved permanent flood protection work, WSA spokesperson Patrick Boyle said.

Communities and businesses can recover 75 per cent of their costs for projects such as berms, culverts and lift station work. The program also covers all the costs of engineering assistance, and part of the costs for temporary measures such as sandbags and pumping.

The turnaround time on applications varies, he said, "but if we get into emergency situations, we act very, very fast."

Since 2011, about 580 permanent flood protection projects have been completed, totaling about $25 million, in some of Saskatchewan's more vulnerable areas. Boyle said those completed projects should help with flooding this year.

"We think that by investing in these community-driven mitigation efforts, it's going to help us create flood protection not only this spring, but in many years to come," he said.

The program is run through the agency's regional offices because it's faster to do so, Boyle said. "They know the location, the area, quite well. If they didn't grow up there, they grew up in the community beside. So we're all sort of in the same family."

Individuals and municipalities can apply to the program by calling their local WSA offices. More information on Saskatchewan flood forecasts and programs is available online.

Minimal risk in Alberta

Alberta's flooding risk is minimal, but people living near rivers, creeks and streams should watch water levels, especially as the ice breaks up.

Rains are more likely to cause flooding than snowmelt in Alberta, which means floods in the province often can only be forecast a few days in advance, said Renee Hackney, public affairs officer with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.

"The snowpacks on the mountains are currently around average. They're pretty normal," Hackney recently told Alberta Farmer's Victoria Paterson. "There's nothing of concern right now, other than seepage which is pretty normal."

Snowpack north of Drumheller is currently higher than average, but Hackney pointed out that in other areas of the province the ground is almost bare. The department monitors river levels, contacts municipalities if it sees a potential problem, and posts advisories on its website, she said.

Brad Andres, emergency program manager for Alberta Agriculture, told Alberta Farmer the province's worst rainfalls tend to happen in late April or early May. Rainfall flooding means contamination of crops is likely to come from a farmer's own property instead of upstream.

Andres recommended every farm have a plan to deal with flooding, but added that only as much time should be put into it as there is risk. For instance, if a property is more likely to be hit by forest fires, focus on that danger.

Practicality is necessary when coming up with a flood-emergency scheme, he said. "Do the things that make common sense. Each farm's going to be a little different."

-- Lisa Guenther is a field editor for Grainews at Livelong, Sask. Follow her @LtoG on Twitter.

FLOODING CHECKLIST FOR GRAIN AND LIVESTOCK PRODUCERS

  • Have a game plan before flooding reaches your farm or ranch. This site can help you create an emergency plan. 

  • Get a backup generator.

  • Line up a potable water source in case your well is contaminated. Build up the area around your well to keep water from running down the casing.

  • If there's a chance your well or cistern was contaminated during flooding, shock-chlorinate it once floodwaters recede, then have it tested. The Saskatchewan Disease Control Laboratory will test water samples for free this spring.

  • Check any wastewater systems for flooding risk.

  • Make sure potential contaminants such as pesticides, batteries, manure and fuel won't be washed into a water source.

  • Keep emergency waterproofing materials handy, such as sandbags, lumber and plywood, plastic sheeting and rope.

  • If you have dams, canals or similar infrastructure on your farm, inspect them to make sure they will hold up to flooding.

  • Contact your local municipality if you notice any blocked culverts.

  • Be ready to switch off electricity before buildings flood.

  • If your grain is in an area likely to flood, move it as soon as possible.
  • ADDITIONAL TIPS FOR LIVESTOCK PRODUCERS

  • Identify people who can help you move livestock on short notice before the waters rise. Pick out alternate routes as well.

  • Move livestock before water rises, as working in cold floodwater is dangerous.

  • Make sure animals have access to feed and water on high ground in case local roads are closed.

  • Try to prevent livestock from drinking flood water, as it may be contaminated.

  • Keep livestock out of buildings and shelters. Livestock may drown rather than leave a flooded building.

  • Use highly visible identification, such as brands, for livestock, in case they escape or need to be moved. -- L.G.

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