Western Canadian province sees major spring floods

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - The western Canadian province of Manitoba, a key producer of wheat and canola, will see major spring flooding if weather conditions continue as expected, the provincial government said on Monday.

Aerial view of farmyards surrounded by water during spring flooding of the Red River near Morris, Manitoba, April 14, 2009. REUTERS/Fred Greenslade

The province gave its earliest outlook for spring flooding in recent memory -- one month ahead of usual -- out of concern about already-saturated soil conditions, heavy snowfall and expectations of a cooler and wetter than normal spring.

The flat southern Manitoba Prairie around the Red River is prone to spring flooding, but this year, rivers like the Assiniboine also look to break their banks, Manitoba officials said.

Even with normal precipitation amounts and an average snow melting rate, Manitoba will flood at a similar level as 2009, when thousands were forced out of their homes and the capital of Winnipeg relied on its massive Red River floodway to divert water around the city.

Winnipeg sits at the conjunction of the Red and Assiniboine.

“It really will come down to the weather,” said Steve Ashton, Manitoba’s minister for emergency measures, at the province’s legislature. “I realize that’s the case every year, but there are some preconditions in place for flooding this year.”

Much of the Red River Valley turned into a sprawling lake in 2009 due to high river levels and heavy snow melt, as well as ice jams on the Red River itself.

Farmers still managed to plant most of their crops, but stretches of Manitoba’s main highway to the United States were submerged.

The neighboring province of Saskatchewan also expects serious flooding this spring, which could have bigger farm implications by leaving millions of acres unplanted.

Manitoba’s concerns mirror those of the U.S. National Weather Service, which earlier this month said major flooding is likely along the Red River, which divides North Dakota and Minnesota before running north into Manitoba.

Unfavorable weather could produce a flood like that of 1997, which was Manitoba’s worst in a century, government officials said.

Manitoba, which will hold a provincial election in the autumn, has already started preparing for the flood. Premier Greg Selinger said the province would spend C$22 million ($22.2 million) to top up its sandbag supplies to 2.2 million bags, buy ice-cutting vehicles and other equipment, and bolster dirt dikes.

Since the 1997 flood, Manitoba has spent more than C$1 billion to improve flood protection.

($1=$0.99 Canadian)

Editing by Rob Wilson