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Bartley Kives, Winnipeg Free Press March 27, 2015
When the mayor and council signed off on the city's biggest infrastructure priorities, they once again left Winnipeg's No. 1 need off the list.
Over the next six years, the city will spend $1.3 billion on waste-water upgrades that include big-ticket improvements to sewage-treatment plants and combined-sewer replacements.
This work results from a 2003 provincial environmental order to reduce the phosphorus and nitrogen the city dumps into the Red River every year, a nutrient load that winds up in already over-fertilized Lake Winnipeg.
This $1.3 billion in spending comes on top of $500 million already spent on waste-water upgrades. When all the provincially ordered work is finally finished, likely in the late 2020s, the total price tag may well exceed $4 billion.
So far, the city has paid for all the new pipes and plant upgrades by borrowing money on the utility side and jacking up water and sewer rates. This is the main reason your water and sewer bills have skyrocketed in the past decade.
When the province ordered these improvements, the idea was for the city, province and federal government to split the bill. But Ottawa and Broadway haven't held up their end of the loose agreement, leaving the city on the hook for most of the tab.
This year alone, water and sewer projects on the city's books add up to $330 million. Winnipeg is spending so much on waste water in 2015, the capital budget has ballooned to a record $561 million.
All this spending means more borrowing and more interest to cover rising water and sewer bills. But since Winnipeg property and business owners have no choice but to pay those water and sewer bills, the city knows it can rely on them to cover the cost of the waste-water upgrades.
Politically, this gives the city the freedom to badger Ottawa and Broadway for money for other projects, such as the roads and underpasses that wound up on top of the infrastructure-funding priority list council approved Wednesday.
Logically, however, this is mildly insane: Knowing full well that waste water is the city's biggest funding priority, Mayor Brian Bowman and council have asked the two other levels of government to pay for other, less crucial stuff.
And this has happened in spite of nothing less than federal and provincial intransigence when it comes to ponying up money for sewage-treatment plants and combined-sewer replacements.
It isn't much of a mystery why the Harper and Selinger governments aren't crazy about spending money on waste-water improvements. For starters, sewage isn't sexy -- or at least nowhere near as exciting to people as a Waverley Street underpass or Chief Peguis Trail extension.
When you build a new underpass or extend a freeway, you can erect one of those shiny signs that tell motorists about your investment. But nobody but sewage-treatment-plant workers ever visits a sewage-treatment plant -- and nobody has the X-ray vision to see what's going on underground.
Aside from the lack of sexiness, waste-water upgrades are immensely expensive. This is the main reason the feds and the province aren't overly interested in the projects, even though they know they're more important than another stretch of pavement.
So year after year, city number-crunchers shrug their shoulders and borrow more money for treatment plants and sewage pipes. And year after year, timid city councils agree to raise water and sewer rates to pay back the capital cost and cover the interest.
If Bowman and his colleagues had any sort of guts, they would tell Ottawa and Broadway it's time to start shouldering their fair share of the tab. But no, Winnipeggers didn't even hear a peep about the city's biggest spending priority during this week's infrastructure debate.
Even worse, council plans to jack up water and sewer rates even more next year to provide a dividend to the city -- and use that cash to help cover operating costs. This is more than mildly insane.
Like it or not, Winnipeg is spending billions on sewage. It's not fair for ratepayers to shoulder a disproportionate share of the financial burden.
BIG MONEY FOR WASTE
The city spends more infrastructure money on waste water and sewage-treatment upgrades than it does on anything else. Here are some of the major projects on this city's books:
$569 million: The price tag to upgrade the North End Water Pollution Control Centre, the city's largest sewage-treatment plant. The work is supposed to conclude in 2016.
$335 million: The cost for a new nutrient-removal facility under construction at the South End Water Pollution Control Centre. This is supposed to be finished this year.
$274 million: The price tag for a new facility to process biosolids, a byproduct of the city's three sewage-treatment plants. The new plant is supposed to be completed in 2017.
$153 million: Money earmarked over the next six years to bury separate sewage pipes and storm drains. This figure does not include cash spent in previous years to replace combined sewers and mitigate basement flooding.
-- source: City of Winnipeg
Bartley Kives, Winnipeg Free Press March 28, 2015
MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES
Lake St. Martin, which has flooded in the past, high again this year but is not expected to flood.
The flood risk in Manitoba is so low this spring, officials are concerned with ensuring there's enough water to go around.
Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation's latest flood outlook, issued Friday by the hydrologic forecast centre, calls for a minimal risk of flooding throughout the province, mainly because most of the spring runoff has already taken place.
Ice jams remain possible on some rivers, and a handful of large lakes are high, forecasting director Fisaha Unduche said.
The ice-jam risk is high along the Saskatchewan River at The Pas, while the Portage Diversion is sending Assiniboine River water to Lake Manitoba to reduce the risk of Assiniboine ice jams along the lower portion of the river.
As a result, Lake Manitoba is expected to crest above its upper operating limit, but below the flood stage. Whitewater Lake, north of Turtle Mountain, Lake St. Martin in the Interlake and Lake Winnipegosis are also high.
While Unduche categorized the overall provincial picture as good news, he cautioned a major spring storm could change the flooding outlook.
The province wants to ensure reservoirs are high enough to meet demands for drinking water, said Steve Topping, executive director of hydrologic forecasting and water management for Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation.
Reservoirs are sufficiently full right now, he said. The Lake of the Prairies outflow at the Shellmouth Dam has been reduced to allow the reservoir to fill for the summer, he added.
His office must balance the need to prevent flooding with the need to ensure communities that rely on river water have enough, he noted.
Bartley Kives, Winnipeg Free Press March 27, 2015
JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Thousands of Canada geese converge on open water at Fort Whyte Alive on Thursday. Despite the recent cold, most of the spring snowmelt has already taken place, lowering the flood risk.
The flood risk in Manitoba has gone from low to even lower, as most of the spring snowmelt has already taken place.
The March flood outlook from Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation's hydrologic forecasr cente calls for a minimal risk of flooding throughout the province, though ice jams remain possible on some rivers, and a handful of large lakes are high.
The only river where the ice-jam risk is high is the Saskatchewan River at The Pas, forecasting director Fisaha Unduche said.
The Portage Diversion is sending Assiniboine River water to Lake Manitoba to reduce the risk of Assiniboine ice jams. Lake Manitoba is expected to crest a foot and a half above its upper operating limit, but below the flood stage.
Whitewater Lake, north of Turtle Mountain, and Lake Winnipegosis are also high.
The Red River, meanwhile, has crested and the province doesn't expect to operate the Red River Floodway.
Unduche categorized the overall provincial picture as good news, but cautioned a major spring storm could change the flooding outlook.
Aaron Beswick, Truro Bureau March 26, 2015
A view of the Salmon River near the Stanfields factory in Truro during a previous high-water time. This weekend’s weather will test recent steps Truro has taken to mitigate flooding.
Truro is ready for rain — at least small amounts like what was expected to fall overnight.
After huge snowfalls through March, Truro’s public works department has been eyeing the weather forecast warily, concerned that a heavy rainfall on top of the snow load could cause a repeat of the spring flooding of recent years.
“This will be the first significant test on the changes we’ve made,” Mayor Bill Mills said of the anticipated rainfall.
Over the past year, Truro has teamed up with the Municipality of the County of Colchester to top up dikes and dredge portions of the Salmon River to allow better water flow.
Over the past week, town staff have been clearing snow and ice from catch basins in preparation for the spring melt.
“We have been advised by a meteorologist that we’re looking at about 65 millimetres of total precipitation over the next two weeks,” said Andrew MacKinnon, director of public works for Truro.
“Now that’s just a forecast, but it’s a good low number and hopefully we’ll see a nice slow drop in our snow levels.”
The self-proclaimed Hub of Nova Scotia was built on the low fertile land at the confluence of the North and Salmon rivers. For millennia, those rivers crested their banks each spring and deposited silt on the marshy lowlands that first drew the Acadians to dike the area for farmland.
“How long do you have?” MacKinnon said when asked what factors cause Truro to flood.
Truro is also just upriver from the highest tides in the world. So a storm surge on a spring tide can push water from the Bay of Fundy up the Minas Basin and into the rivers and force them over their banks. Ice jams in the rivers can slow the water’s flow and push it over the banks or a big rainfall on a large snow accumulation can do the trick.
But Truro and Colchester County have been learning to deal with flooding for generations.
They have a consultant’s report coming to their joint flood committee over what work they should do over the coming year.
“The goal is to get the water out to the flood plain where it belongs,” said Mills.
“Judging by the forecast, I think we’re going to be all right.”
Don Marks, Osborne Village Community Correspondent March 24, 2015
Winnipeg residents have been mostly flood-free since Duff’s ditch was built and most of southern Manitoba is able to stay high and dry because of various water diversions along the Assiniboine River’s path. But there are plenty of flood victims in Winnipeg nonetheless.
We can’t forget that 2,000 First Nations people have been living among us in hotels or temporary rental accommodations for four years now. These are folks who were displaced by floodwaters diverted from the south to the communities of Lake St. Martin, Pinaymootang, Little Saskatchewan and Dauphin River.
While we don’t seem to be getting closer to resolving this problem, it has cost $100 million to cover the costs of this displacement and the cost to these communities is incalculable.
The population of the flooded communities continue to shrink as this instability and hardship causes people to choose other options.
The immediate impacts are severe. While families have to try and recreate some semblance of their former home lives here in the city, the education of their children is interrupted. There are distractions in the big city, some of them very negative, such as alcohol, drugs and gangs, and their children are left to cope without their cultural base and sense of identity.
While much of the province is breathing a sigh of relief at this year’s flood forecast, the four communities face lasting effects including a vast increase in the number of community deaths, high rates of sickness due to living conditions and worry, mental health issues related to the feeling of helplessness and social isolation, as well as grief and loss of belongings and lands community members were accustomed to. A Red Cross study says the people are on an "emotional roller coaster" and "adjusting poorly."
Think about it from the comfort of our homes in the Village. Your kids are bouncing around from school to school, ahead of the rest of their class at one and behind at another. The street hip hopper with the tat has replaced the grass dancer your daughter used to bring home from a pow-wow. Your whole family just gets settled into one place and then has to move to another, hotel to rental to relative and back and forth.
Life overall becomes very sad.
One woman tells the tragic story of her grandmother, who had to flee the floodwaters.
"She always talked about not wanting to leave her home. And she always talked about not wanting to go home in a coffin. But that is how we had to take her home when she passed away."
Maybe it is a no-brainer to protect the areas with higher populations but there is no excuse for negotiations to return people to their homelands to drag on for four years.
And to develop a permanent solution to this flooding which will happen again and again as long as the water is diverted north to communities which have no protection from the ever-rising water.
Don Marks is a community correspondent for Osborne Village. You can reach him at