City of Brandon 'closely watching' river level, forecasts amid flood warning

'We are certainly prepared for what's being forecasted,' says emergency manager Tobin Praznik

Part of southwestern Manitoba is currently under a flood warning, and the province's second-largest city says it's prepared for whatever may come.

On April 12, the province issued a flood warning for the Assiniboine River, between the Shellmouth Dam and the city of Brandon, with upwards of 40 millimeters of precipitation expected this week on top of the regular spring runoff.

Tobin Praznik, Brandon's emergency manager, says the city has been experiencing flooding in some low-lying areas since April 9.

"At this point, we've been fortunate we haven't been impacted too severely," he told CBC on Tuesday.

"But over the next few days, we're going to be closely watching on how high the river and the forecasts are going to be."

CBC: The Assiniboine River in Brandon, Man., is seen in a file image. A stretch of the river, between the Shellmouth Dam and the city, is under a flood warning. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

The Assiniboine River in Brandon, Man., is seen in a file image. A stretch of the river, between the Shellmouth Dam and the city, is under a flood warning. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

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Brandonites should stay away from the river while the warning is in effect, he said.

"I know it becomes a bit of an attraction to have a look and see how [quickly] the water is running, but it's also very dangerous and we advise the public to stay clear, and especially keep an eye on your children and pets during this time frame."

'There is no norm' The city has experienced overland flooding a few times over the last number of years, but mostly in low-lying areas, Praznik said. The city has swung between drought conditions and overland flooding, he said.

Manitoba rainfall map through Thursday (updated April 16)

Manitoba rainfall map through Thursday (updated April 16 by The Weather Network)

That may be the new normal, according to Jay Doering, a senior scholar in civil engineering with the University of Manitoba.

"The new norm, as I keep saying, is that there is no norm. Things keep swinging between extremes," he told host Janet Stewart during a Tuesday interview with CBC Manitoba's Radio Noon.

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This spring, "we're probably going to see relatively dry conditions in the south, and the north looks like they could see perhaps wetter-than-normal conditions."

The province also issued overland flood warnings on Monday for parts of northwestern Manitoba, including the Swan River, The Pas and Flin Flon areas, with significant precipitation forecast there for this week.

Brandon, Man./Assiniboine River water levels, April 13

While Doering is not a climatologist, he said he believes climate change has played a role.

In 2022, southern Manitoba had its wettest spring in over a century, causing damage to thousands of sites with a price tag for repairs in the tens of millions of dollars, officials said at the time.

Much of Manitoba's infrastructure was built prior to widespread awareness or acceptance of climate change, leaving structures such as bridges and culverts at risk of becoming easily overwhelmed, said Doering.

An important step is to simply be aware of that, he says.

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"It's a zero-sum game," he said. "There's only so much money, and right now people seem to want to focus on health care, and I get that."

Although the Assiniboine River is currently above its banks in some parts of southwestern Manitoba, Brandon is going to be "touch and go," Doering says.

"The flood peak is basically right at the bank's full level, so a little additional precipitation may well put the Assiniboine River over its banks in Brandon itself."

Praznik says the city has been making necessary decisions based on the daily updates on flood predictions it receives from the province's hydrologic forecast centre.

"We are certainly prepared for what's being forecasted at this point in time," he said.

"If things were to escalate, we'd also be in a position to make the necessary steps and actions, and advise the public of any impacts that we start seeing here in the city."

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This article, written by Ozten Shebahkeget, was originally published for CBC News on April 16, 2024.