Manitoba says weather conditions, slow melt will mean low flood risk

WINNIPEG -- Manitoba says most of the province is at a relatively low risk for serious flooding this year but officials say that could change with heavy precipitation or a quick spring melt.

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Flood forecaster Fisaha Unduche with Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation says there is less frost in the soil, which means the ground can absorb more melting snow and reduce runoff.

There is also less snow on the ground for now, he said.

"This is good news," Unduche said at the province's first flood forecast briefing Monday. "Ice thickness is also near normal to below normal, which is also good news."

The province has already started breaking up ice along the north Red River to prevent ice jams and overland flooding.

The Assiniboine River, which has been battered by flooding in recent years, is at moderate risk for flooding, Unduche said.

A recent report said defences along the Assiniboine River between Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg are weak and another flood in the region could cause up to $2 billion in damage if they fail.

In 2014, Manitoba declared a state of emergency and asked the military for sandbagging help when floodwaters poured into the Assiniboine River watershed from Saskatchewan.

The province was also battered by one of the worst floods in its history in 2011. Army reservists scrambled to help shore up weakened dikes and sandbag homes along the Assiniboine River.

Unduche said dikes along the river should be able to hold under the current forecast.

Steve Topping, the department's executive director of hydrologic forecasting and water management, said the province will continue to prepare for the worst-case scenario and hope for the best.

"This is one of the most favourable forecasts we've seen," he said. "But things can turn bad with a really bad outlier storm."

Manitoba voters are set to go to the polls in a provincial election April 19. Premier Greg Selinger said politics won't interfere if flood-fighting becomes necessary.

"We never stop governing, even in an election cycle," Selinger said at the briefing. "We would never let the election derail our first priority, which is the security of Manitobans, if a dangerous set of conditions rapidly materialized."



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