The Rising Red: Our History May Repeating

October 8, 2019

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If you have been down to The Forks or walked along any riverbank lately you will notice that the Red River is rising. Manitoba has seen unprecedented rainfall throughout September and early October. In Winnipeg alone we had 18 days of rain with a combined rainfall total of 150.8 millimetres this is more than three times the typical amount of rainfall for the month of September. This past weekend we got another 12-17 millimetres.

This excess precipitation has caused the Red River to be abnormally high for this time of the year. The last time the Red River has seen levels this high just was in November 2010. In the following spring, Winnipeg and surrounding area saw one of its worst floods.

Remembering when in the spring of 2011, the government spent nearly $1 billion fighting the flood and paying compensation for damages to farms, business and homes. Flooding affected three million hectares of farmland.  Ranchers had to move thousands of heads of livestock. Locally, states of emergency were declared in 70 Manitoba communities. Flood waters forced the closure of 850 roads, including parts of the Trans-Canada Highway. The massive flood fighting effort involved thousands of emergency measures officials, volunteers, including inmates from a local jail, and 1,800 members of the Canadian military (See Manitoba Flood Facts).

This flood affected most of southern Manitoba and led to the evacuation of people from 18 First Nation communities. A total of 7,100 Manitobans were displaced from their homes.  Some homeowners were unable to return for as long as 6 years. 

The normal summer level at James Avenue in Winnipeg is 6.5 feet but on Monday morning it was at 13.7 feet. That is barely 1.3 feet below what is considered the “informal “minor flood level of 15 feet.  This would require the city to begin preparing for a flood, including shutting off certain drainage gates.

To be clear, today (October 8th, 2019), the water level at 13.9 feet which makes the Red River already 0.6 feet higher than the river’s crest in fall 2010. Are we going to see a repeat of the flood waters of 2011 this spring? The high soil moisture content that we have today is also comparable to November 2010’s levels and could have a dire impact on the spring 2020 melt and flood potential

See current Red River levels here.

Effects the Red River has on our communities:

Currently, many communities in southern Manitoba are watching the water of the Red River rise to near-flood levels. Some are unaffected while others are, uncharacteristically at risk for this time of year. As of October 3rd,2019 the RM of Labroquerie has declared a local state of emergency as the community of Zhoda sandbags to protect several flood-threatened houses.

Other low-lying areas of southern Manitoba such as De Salaberry, Montcalm and Ritchot have also been on the lookout for threatening waters. Luckily, minimal action has been required.

A history of high soil moisture content & how it can affect spring 2020:

Historically, this is not the first-time southern Manitoba has seen such high amounts of precipitation in the fall. According to the Government of Manitoba flood history index, we saw similar conditions in 2010, 2009 and 1948. In the spring of 2011, a cold winter and heavy snowfall caused a deep soil-frost penetration and spring melt was more likely to spread out than be absorb into the ground. If we see similar winter conditions, this would increase the likelihood of a flood in spring of 2020.

We can’t control the weather; however, we are keeping our fingers crossed on the flood threat not materializing. If the weather this fall is any indication of what’s in store for us, we better be prepared.

Here are a few things you can do before this winter’s freeze to prepare for a soggy spring. A publication from the government of Canada’s Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) suggests taking steps to ensure that rainwater is not pooling near or around your home and foundation. Maintain proper drainage and site grading. If you have a sump pump system, make sure it is in good working condition. Consider a backwater valve. This will protect your home from surges in the sewer system. Lastly, make sure your home’s gutters are clear of leaves and debris and place your downspouts to flow water away from your home’s foundation. Lastly, contact your local Municipal office if your home is being threatened by rising waters.


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