'It's coming': Southwestern Manitoba residents watch, wait as spring melt begins

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'It's coming': Southwestern Manitoba residents watch, wait as spring melt begins

In Wawanesa, Man., people are warily watching the Souris River and the dikes that protect some of the town's most important buildings. 

"It's coming," said Dave Kreklewich, mayor of the Municipality of Oakland-Wawanesa.

The Souris River surrounds the town, located about 165 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, on three sides. Forecasters peg the river at a major risk to flood this spring. 

The province gave the final flood forecast of 2017 on Friday. It said a flood on the Souris River could be almost as severe as it was in 2011 if there's unfavourable weather — a lot of rain or snow and a quick melt — over the next month.

In 2011, the town was forced to sandbag around many homes and buildings during high water that lasted many months. Local officials know the water will come, it's now a matter of when. 

"If we get weather like this, a freeze-thaw it's not that great a temperature, I think we'll be OK," Kreklewich said. "If we all of a sudden we get 15 or 20 C days, we're going to have bigger concerns," he said. 

Town better prepared 

Even still, Kreklewich believes his town is better prepared this time around. 

"We're better prepared now than ever," he said, noting that permanent dikes will protect areas left vulnerable in 2011. "There's some low spots we have to look at as the water level rises and we'll take that day to day."

Kreklewich remembers that year vividly.

"It was a lot of concern," he said. "The hospital had to be evacuated, the school was affected, classes were set up in the hall."

"It affected a lot of people at that time." 

The town's hospital and school are located in one of the lowest spots in town and have since been fortified by tall dikes.

One of the town's bridges was also damaged in the 2011 flood and still hasn't been repaired. 

"I think there's more concern about water getting out [of town] than getting in now because of the snow level that we have," said Kreklewich. "When they see this amount of snow ... people start thinking it's going to flood." 

More than 40 cm of snow fell in some areas of southwestern Manitoba earlier this month during a blizzard.

Some sandbags may be needed 

Kreklewich said aqua-dikes and sandbags may be needed to protect the town's campground in the event of a flood. 

Lisa Angus lives along the Souris River. She's experienced floods before, living in both Wawanesa and Souris. 

"It's pretty scary not knowing that's going to happen," she said, standing on her front porch looking at the frozen river across the street. "It's your house, right, all your belongings. Hopefully it's not too bad."

Houses along her street were sandbagged in 2011 as a precaution, but she isn't too worried yet. 

"We hear people talking," she said. "I think we'll be OK. I'm hoping anyway." 

Kreklewich said there is concern that overland flooding could cut off some rural roads outside of the town. He said crews will be working to make sure culverts and other infrastructure are clear ahead of the melt. 

The risk of flooding on the Assiniboine River, Pembina River and Roseau River is now listed at moderate to major.

The flood risk along the Red River is listed as moderate.