It is a sight common to residents of Ste. Agathe every spring when there is a threat of high flood water; the construction of an earth berm on the west riverbank in that community. The berm is temporary, and the decision to build it is made by the province, not the local municipality.
Chris Ewen is Mayor for the Rural Municipality of Ritchot. He says construction of this berm seems to be happening on a near-annual basis. Ewen says what happens is, construction crews will come in and add a dike wall that is maybe four feet high. Then, once the flood is over, crews will remove all of that clay. However, the removal of the berm can sometimes happen months after the flood is over.
"I think the people of Ste. Agathe are frustrated," suggests Ewen.
In fact, he says residents have told him they deserve something permanent, instead of continuously witnessing this devastation.
He notes Ste. Agathe is one of the prettiest communities along the Red River. He says people use the riverbank to go for walks, yet the construction of this temporary earth dike destroys that area.
"I can't think of the devastation that the community will see once everything is torn up," he says. "I remember planting trees in that specific area and now it's gone."
Ewen says construction crews will do whatever it takes to build the dike, even if it means destroying walking paths or trees that had been planted there.
The Ritchot Mayor is looking for answers from the province. He notes surely there must be a permanent solution, rather than building and then tearing down this temporary berm every time there is any threat of flooding.
"I don't want to shoot down the province or the contractors that are doing this temporary work because there's a lot of engineering and studying involved," says Ewen. "But we are hoping that we can have an open line of communication to see what a long term answer is and a permanent solution for our residents."
Ewen says the other thing he does not understand is why some years the province has opted to rather use large sandbags than build the earth berm. He says he does not know what it costs each spring to do this work, but suggests the price must be "astronomical."
"It costs a lot of money to put this together and then it costs a lot of money to take it down," he says. "So it's great for maybe the construction crews that are getting the bids and being able to do the work on it, but it's just not great for a sense of long term community."
Meantime, the Province has provided an explanation.
According to the Province of Manitoba, the west riverbank in Ste. Agathe has slope stability issues and so the extra load of a permanent dike would result in a slope failure of the riverbank.
The province states that the riverbank can handle the load from the temporary dike during a flood as the hydrostatic pressure on the riverbank, due to high water levels, provides a counterbalance to the extra load from the dike. However, the dike must be removed during the river drawdown as the riverbank slope stability is compromised when river levels are low and the soil is saturated.
Meanwhile, the province says it is in the project planning stages to upgrade the Ste. Agathe dike to the one in 200 year flood protection level. The preliminary design planned for the near future will investigate options to stabilize the riverbank so that permanent diking can be constructed in that location.