On November 14th the Executive of ALMS met with Minister Struthers and other staff of the Province of Manitoba to raise concerns relating to the current situation at Lake Manitoba. These concerns were a direct result of issues and priorities expressed by the membership of ALMS in a recent meeting.
In follow-up to the meeting, ALMS sent a letter to Minister Struthers to confirm our discussions, and clarify our position. Below is the text of the letter.
Dear Minister Struthers,
Please find attached a letter which summarizes our discussions of November 14th, 2011 between Manitoba and ALMS Executive.
It is our understanding that the various departments are working on an official response on behalf of Manitoba.
We anxiously await your response, thank you again for your time on these matters,
Association of Lake Manitoba Stakeholders
November 23, 2011
Minister Stan Struthers VIA: e-mail
Dear Minister Struthers;
Re: Further to Our Meeting of November 14, 2011
On behalf of the Association of Lake Manitoba Stakeholders (ALMS), we would like to thank you for taking the time to meet with us on November 14, 2011.
In our meeting, we articulated a number of issues facing the stakeholders around Lake Manitoba who have been severely impacted by the government initiated decision to intentionally divert the Assiniboine River to Lake Manitoba resulting in an unprecedented flooding of the Lake.
In our meeting, we discussed:
- Lake Manitoba Levels – we continue to be focused on the absolute priority which the Premier agreed to undertake in June – the immediate reduction of Lake Manitoba levels on an emergency basis. The Lake continues to be dangerously high, and at this point, there does not appear movement in Lake levels as a result of the creation and operation of the emergency channel built from Lake St. Martin to Lake Winnipeg.
- Since our meeting, we have requested a special meeting to address this observation.
- We re-iterated the critical nature of Manitoba establishing a mechanism on an urgent basis to allow regulation of outflows from the Lake to match the inflows – both natural and man-made. At this point, the Fairford structure cannot match the outflows of the Portage Diversion, let alone the natural inflow to the Lake. Given current circumstances, we believe there is a high probability of such a re-occurrence this spring, and as such, this is a critical priority for Manitoba. Neither we, nor the taxpayers of the Province, can afford a reoccurrence of this year’s disaster. Money spent now to address this situation would pale in comparison to that which will be spent should a repeat of this year’s event re-occur.
- Currently projected Lake levels for April 2012 do not appear to have an adequate safety factor to handle a typical spring melt, let alone a high level melt we experienced this year. As such, again, there is a high probability of a repeat occurrence of this year’s event. We are concerned that if we have a reoccurrence of this year’s flooding at even a 50% of event size, the current measures and plans to reduce the Lake level are grossly inadequate and in fact have given the public a dangerous misconception of our preparedness.
- There is a need for legislation to specify what should happen when a flood occurs, as well as the operation of the Portage Diversion, the Fairford dam, and the newly constructed channel. This should spell out boundaries for operation(i.e. When it can and cannot be operated) as well as prescribed remediation for damage cause by its operation including such issues as property protection, compensation, shoreline remediation, as well as which departments shall be responsible for the action. This would prevent much stress and uncertainty such as that we have experienced this year.
- ALMS has asked to be involved in consultation in regards to any consultations, commissions, committees, or other reviews which may be conducted on regulating the Lake level, or visiting this flood event.
- We mentioned the issue that Lake Manitoba was not designed to be a reservoir, and yet this year it was operated and treated as one. Such action and use requires consultation and compensation to the impacted property owners.
- Compensation Programs – We appreciate the efforts undertaken by the Province, the Ministers, as well as the organizations under the Province’s control – MAFRI, MASC and Water Stewardship to help provide both compensation and flood protection against future reoccurrences.
- While we understand that you do not view these as compensation programs, we must point out that this event was largely due to the operation of the Portage Diversion, and the diversion of the Assiniboine water away from the Red River and Winnipeg into Lake Manitoba –something which the River does not naturally do. As such, and by definition, this is a man-made event. As such, its operation was an intentional decision to sacrifice the communities, properties, and economic well-being of those on Lake Manitoba to prevent devastation to larger communities and economic areas such as Winnipeg. Further because of comments made by the Premier both in the media and in private conversations, we believe the Province has accepted responsibility for this decision, and as such has a moral and legal obligation to make those impacted “whole again” through compensation which restores ALL stakeholders to their pre-flood condition.
- Administration of the current programs is very confusing for the flood victims. There needs to be better coordination between departments and agencies involved, perhaps moving to a single delivery coordination point.
- There is a lack of accounting information on flood assistance claims provided to flood victims. It is unclear what is approved, what is denied, what is paid against which claim limit, and details as to how to get problems resolved. In many cases, payments made cannot be reconciled by flood victims against their submitted claim. It simply does not make sense, and in many cases, flood victims are left without payment or explanation and frustrated.
- There is substantial delay in the receipt of payments. Many flood victims are out of pocket significant costs – ranging well in excess of $5,000 advances, and are facing further financial hardship because of waiting 90 to 120 days for cheques. Retired pensioners on fixed incomes are hardly in a position to finance $10,000, let alone $50,000 in flood costs.
- We urge that a principal of claim payment within 30 days from receipt of each claim be set for departments and agencies to provide payment to flood victims. Where this is not possible, we urge that a recoverable advance be made to cover the cost of claim while it is being adjudicated.
- Deductible – Currently there is a deductible in place for the Water Stewardship program. As we discussed, deductibles are typically used by insurance programs where the claimant has some responsibility for the occurrence and/or can find ways to mitigate the occurrence. The Lake Manitoba flooding is truly outside the control of those impacted, a result of an intentional decision to divert water and use the Lake as a reservoir. To apply a deductible suggests the victims of this flood could have prevented the damage – and adds “insult to injury.”
- We ask the deductibles be removed.
- At a minimum, we urge the Province to refund any/all PST paid by flood victims as a gesture of the sincerity of the Province to assist in the economic costs in this situation. It is unpalatable that the Province should receive tax revenue on the misery of those impacted by this disaster situation.
- Manitoba Water Stewardship is directing many people to raise structures to newly increased heights. We need height benchmarks to be visibly provided to assist, as without a benchmark, home owners are unable to determine correct levels and under the Water Stewardship program are then penalized after the work has been completed.
- We raised concerns that stakeholders along the west side of Lake Manitoba do not appear to be receiving adequate attention from agencies involved.
- In terms of the upcoming spring melt, the issue of ice damage is of great concern. Again, Manitoba’s history with ice control is largely limited to rivers and small lakes. Lake Manitoba is an inland ocean. As such, the damage from ice break-up is a real concern. We urge Manitoba to consult with other jurisdictions which have large lakes, and investigate measures to control the damage proactively. We re-iterated the importance and urgency of the Lake level being reduced to a level which provides a buffer to allow for a Spring Melt of significance. We offer ideas such as those tabled by our members that simple, cost-effective measures, such as creation of snow roads/banks around the shoreline which might help to reduce the likelihood of spring ice damage.
- We discussed the Federal Government’s involvement in compensation as well as a broader definition of DFA to include all property owners. We will pursue a direct discussion with the Federal Minister Responsible for Manitoba in this regard and understand you are continuing to do so.
In closing, we must underscore the continued urgency of this situation. Lake Manitoba is a very large body of water, and our Province’s past flood fighting measures, experience and knowledge are largely based on dealing with rivers and small lakes – Lake Manitoba is a very different situation – it is therefore essential the Province understand how this lack of past experience underscores the need for decisive action sooner rather than later. Further, we are dealing with a situation which is largely a result of a decision to divert water from watershed to another, and is likely to occur again this spring. We urge you to prepare for a likely repeat of this year’s events, in order to avoid disastrous economic and political consequences. “Hope for the best and plan for the worst” should be a principal of Manitoba’s actions. This is a time to plan for not only next year’s events, but also the protection of future generations of Manitobans.
In terms of next steps, we would appreciate an official reply from you on the Province’s intentions on the items above, so that we may communicate to the stakeholders of Lake Manitoba. We would welcome any request for clarification or assistance from us on the items discussed. We would prefer not to debate these issues, but rather work together to resolve them.
Again, we wish to re-iterate our appreciation for the open and honest dialogue of our meeting. We thank you, Minister Struthers for your immediate action and reply.
cc Linda McFadyen, Deputy Minister
Barry Todd, Deputy Minister
Scott Greenlay, Director ALMS
Don Clarkson, Vice-President, ALMS
Doug Connery, Director ALMS
Lia Baksina, Secretary ALMS
Jane Hook, Treasurer ALMS
Members of ALMS