Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Water Water everywhere... but few answers to many questions

I've let this "stew" for a few days... or percolate... or ferment... or... never mind

We have a place on a lake. It's a big lake, the third largest body of water in Manitoba actually, and the 33rd largest freshwater lake in the world. The water is high. VERY high, and there seems to be a lot of bovine scat being spread around by our unelected premier and his underlings.

The reason I let this post sit for a while was simply because I'm impacted, and the "hard" questions can become viewed as personal attacks. They're not, but I think we need to review some positions in the departments involved. Let's review.

The big lake doesn't drain naturally anymore... nor does it fill naturally. The levels are manipulated by decisions made to benefit Hydro by Manitoba Water Stewardship, and an "independent" body named Lake Manitoba Stewardship Board. The level is controlled at Fairford, where a dam was  built in the '30's along  a canal that was built at the turn of the century due to extreme flooding. A new dam was built in the early '60's to replace the old one. The highest the lake had ever been before is 816.25' above sea level before my life time... and we're about to revisit that number.

Lakes and water sheds are a tough thing to predict. There are a lot of variables, none of which I have any expertise in... but then... that's not MY job is it? The lake was fed by a few rivers and Lake Winnipegosis, but then we started diverting water from the Assiniboine River via the Portage Diversion into the lake. We finished that little bit of water manipulation in the '70's.

Now let me explain that I'm not opposed to manipulating water levels, but I also believe that someone has to be called on the carpet when they screw up this badly... and they have screwed up... badly. Clearly someone failed miserably in their ability to predict how much water due to winter snow and existing soil saturation was going to flow through the Assiniboine River and the Diversion. Had someone been doing their job, I wouldn't have noticed the lake level RISING over the winter. Clearly, they were continuing to control the outflows, and decided to keep water IN the lake, ostensibly to be a reservoir for the further downstream hydro electric dams, since the lake feeds into the Nelson River, via Lake Winnipeg.

Suddenly one day, a person with authority in these matters realized they screwed up, but there was probably as much P/R damage control as there is flood protection damage control.

We see that almost everything done this spring is knee jerk. There was little planning, and no predictions of record lake levels to allow the municipalities surrounding the south basin of the lake to plan anything. Lemme ask you... has it rained much? This is still winter run off... a wet cycle to be sure, but this isn't a record snow fall winter followed by a record rainfall spring. This wasn't even a record rainfall fall followed by a record snowfall winter. This is BAD PLANNING pure and simple.

The planning includes having kept the lake too high all winter to properly allow for the flow of water the lake was expected to receive, simply, because there wasn't anyone in the Provincial Department who even bothered to look at that river. We had Selinger announce ice breaking on the Red, sand bag machines... a lot of photo ops, but little along the way of actual preparation to make room in the lake for the designed 25,000 cubic feet of water per second, and especially not the "above capacity" flows we have today (32,900 c.ft/sec) Now figure the maximum outflows at Fairford being 18,000 c.ft/sec and you start to realize that if you put in more than you can dump out.... well try this experiment.

If you're name is Philip Mutulu, Christine Melnick, or Steve Topping, go home and wrap electrical tape around the shiny silver "thingy" at the top level of your bathtub, and start adding water with the drain plug closed. When the water gets to the level of the shiny emergency drain we in the biz call the "waste and overflow", let your plug slide over a bit, but just enough so you can hear the water leave... don't take the plug off, and don't turn the water off... and wait... and wait... and watch the water spill over the top... and soak the floor... and ruin the drywall in the room below... and NO, you can't turn the water off! No you can't open the drain plug! You can't, because you are now just like all the poor schleps with investments of money, time and sheer effort along the lake.

You've failed miserably Philip. If you were a meteorologist, and are now a flood forecaster (or a hydrologist), you clearly failed to see this coming. Your first year on the job should be your last IMHO... we need a guy who knows there are two major rivers in this province. Christine? You listening? You've failed through your department too. Sure, we thought it was cute to see you in your nice parka on the Red talking about the amphibex.  Steve Topping... I think you're the guy who kept the level at the height it was over the winter aren't you? If it were my call, you'd be looking for a new control valve to turn, and my glowing reference wouldn't let you turn a valve at a sewage plant, let alone manage a lake level.

Increasingly, we're seeing total ineptitude displayed in our civil servants, and while I understand that freakish weather patterns can't be predicted, this disaster is man made through poor planning, poor forecasting, and very very bad judgment.

A quick visit to the daily flood report http://www.gov.mb.ca/waterstewardship/floodinfo/forecast_centre/daily_reports/2011/en/flood_report_may_17_2011.pdf
Shows the ongoing, "it's not our fault" reporting. "In early April and before the flood, water levels in Lake Manitoba were approximately 2 ft lower than what would have occurred naturally. " I beg to differ. The water was clearly rising ALL WINTER, visible through my weekly snowmobile rides. I commented a number of times, "I've never seen the ice level this high" to people when talking about the lake. It's the kind of thing a guy like me can't "prove" empirically. Some engineer starts talking about this, that, and the udder ting and his word clearly must be relied upon.

Nope.

Steve Ashton? Keep talking, just to give me more reasons not to believe anything you or the "experts" say from now on. http://m.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/prairies/manitoba-amasses-real-troops-and-an-army-of-retired-engineers-to-deal-with-flood/article2018120/?service=mobile 

Almost every new report I read from March is the same... and there is NEVER a mention of flooding on Lake Manitoba. http://www.winnipegsun.com/news/manitoba/2011/03/25/17761276.html We read about the Red, snow in the south, high water on the Assiniboine...

So in closing, the people responsible for controlling the in and outflows of the lake had no idea what they were doing, and that makes them responsible. Had we never controlled the in/out flows, we could blame it on nature, and cycles... but you can't convince us that the lake would be HIGHER without you adding all that water from Portage just because your "daily flood report" says so. Most of us simply don't believe you.




Manitoba Water Stewardship has calculated Lake Manitoba water levels under natural conditions (without the Portage Diversion inflows, the Fairford Dam or the expansion of the Fairford River channel which increased outflow capacity to Lake St. Martin). These flood control works are intended to operate so that water levels on Lake Manitoba do not exceed those that would be experienced under natural conditions. It is estimated that under natural conditions, Lake Manitoba water levels would be approximately 1.1 ft higher today.

Bullshit.

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