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Red River ice jams raise water levels and worry north of Winnipeg

Wednesday, November 20th 2019, 12:15 pm - 'We don't know what's going to happen down the road'

frazil-ice-in-st-andrews

Frazil ice has built up in St. Andrews, creating ice jams that back up the Red River and raise the water level. (Submitted by Jim Stinson)

Ice jams and high water on the Red River north of Winnipeg are creating heightened anxiety at a time of year when those conditions typically don't exist.

"This is totally unprecedented. We've never seen this before," said Jim Stinson, emergency measures co-ordinator for the rural municipality of St. Andrews.

"We have so much of this frazil ice coming down the river right now that it's packing up and backing up."

Earlier in the month, the ice backup caused the water to rise and overflow the banks on either side in some places around Selkirk, about 35 kilometres north of Winnipeg, forcing a bridge to close for a while.

So far no homes are threatened but crews are monitoring the situation closely. Several pumps are running along River Road to keep water away from homes, Stinson said.

The municipality also warns people not to use too much water because septic fields are saturated.

crews-pumping-along-river-road-to-manage-high-water

Crews have been running pumps along River Road to manage flooding from the high water levels. (Pat Kaniuga/CBC)

Excessive rain in September and October led to washed-out roads, flooded basements and local states of emergency in southern Manitoba. That was then followed by an early October snowstorm that melted away and created more runoff.

It all prompted the province to operate Winnipeg's Red River Floodway in October, the first-ever time in fall.

While water levels have slowly receded south of Winnipeg and inside the city since then, areas to the north remain high because of the jams caused by the frazil ice — also unusual in November.

Typically, the water surface slowly freezes and becomes a solid layer while the current continues to flow underneath.

Instead, this year there is thaw-and-freeze pattern, which is more common in spring.

picnic-tables-in-foreground-along-red-river

The tops of picnic tables are barely visible above the high level of the Red River along River Road on Tuesday. The riverside park is typically about 20 feet from the water's edge. (Pat Kaniuga/CBC)

Frazil ice is a slushie-like mixture of crystals that can quickly increase in size as they cling to other objects in the water — logs, branches, larger blocks of ice.

It's not very buoyant so it also gets carried below the surface, clumping and restricting the water flow and sometimes anchoring to the bottom of the riverbed.

It is often a springtime problem in the RM of St. Andrews as the water and ice push through narrow bends of the river on the way to Lake Winnipeg.

Normally, the fall is a drier time of year and river levels are low, ready to take in the spring melt.

"I've lived here for over 30 years and I've talked to people who've lived here up to 60-70 years, and they have never seen it like this. So we're learning as we go," Stinson said.

He's concerned about what will happen in spring.

"We don't know what's going to happen down the road."

This article was originally published by CBC

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