Like many folks living in cities along the Red River this time of year, I'm on flood watch. With the heavy snowfall this winter and constant freeze-thaw of the past few weeks, it doesn't look good. So, we've been keeping an eye on our friends in Fargo and wondering if we're looking at another 1997 Red River Flood.
My kids have seen images on the news of our fellow-Manitobans stacking sandbags around their homes, packing up whatever treasured possessions they can carry, and leaving their homes knowing there's a chance it won't be the same when they return.
And the questions have come as fast as floodwater: Do we have to build a sand fort around our house too? Can we bring our cat if we leave? Is there going to be a pool in the basement? and the always famous Mommy, what's a flood?
So, I gave them the Coles Notes version of Red River Flooding...
The Red River flows from the States up toward us. In the spring, all the snow that's fallen in the winter also melts from south to north. As the river flows up, more and more meltwater joins it raising the water level higher and higher.
Meanwhile, up here, the weather is still too cold for the river ice to melt away completely. The ice breaks up into large sheets that can flow and pile up at certain points along the river. These pile-ups are called ice jams.
The extra river water hits these ice jams and stops. With no place to go, all this water causes flooding.
Then 40 years ago, the Red River Floodway was constructed. This Floodway, also called Duff's Ditch, is a channel that collects the extra river water and leads it around our city. It's saved us billions of dollars in flood damages.
But if there's just too much water, the Floodway may not be able to handle all of it, and many of houses near the river could still flood. These homes, as well as those outside the protection of the floodway, will need sand dikes built, and their families will need to leave...
No, we don't have to build a sand fort around our house, because we live far enough from the river.
Yes, if we ever have to evacuate, we all evacuate. Even Mittens.
No, there won't be a pool in our basement. Okay, maybe an inch or two, a very shallow wading pool at worst, but not deep enough for swimming.
I try to be reassuring, but the reality is that the flooding can still get very bad. And my kids need to know that.
As I type this, problematic ice jams block river flow in the north of the city near Lockport as well as in the south near the mouth of the Floodway. Various areas -- Dominion City, West St.Paul, St.Andrews and other municipalities -- have flooded and declared a state of emergency.
When the water from Fargo reaches us in a week, river levels could rise as fast as a foot per day, even if the jams are cleared. The ground is so saturated, overland flooding is a very real possibility. And the snow just keeps falling!
Emergency services are preparing for the worst. Crews are mechanically breaking up ice jams and melting drainage ditches. Sandbagging and evacuation efforts continue.
The Red River Flood has been a real learning experience for my children. They've really taken the potential dangers to heart, and they hope that one day they can help make "sand forts" to help other people too. But all in all, we are cautiously optimistic.
If you are in Lower Manitoba and would like to volunteer to make "sand forts" too, please call 204-481-0739 for more information on where your help is needed.
Image by USACEpublicaffairs