Despite being impacted by a number of water events last year, the City of Winkler isn't watching the spring flood forecasts as closely as other municipalities across the Pembina and Red River basins. Mayor Henry Siemens says that's because of Winkler's well-planned and well-built dike infrastructure that moves the water around the city.
In 2022, Winkler's flood infrastructure was put to the test a number of times, including with an unprecedented August downtown that saw over 4 inches of rain fall on the city within one hour. The downpour that caught Winkler residents by surprise was considered, at the time, to be a 'once in 100' year event. Siemens says they have since been informed it was much more significant than that.
"As our staff is talking to the provincial weather experts and going back and forth in terms of how fast it came and how much came, what the numbers are telling us, what the provincial authorities are telling us, is that we should consider that a '1 in 1000' year event. To have that much water come that fast, really does put into perspective again how big of an event that actually was. It was very, very significant."
"It shows us, that mostly, it (south spillway/drainage system) worked as designed and was designed well...In terms of how everything worked, how quickly after the water stopped coming, how quickly the water drained and moved away. It showed that it's been well designed and behaved mostly as expected, and as it should have. Ultimately, the only reason there was a significant concern, was the culvert failure on Highway 32."
A potentially 'catastrophic' situation unfolded during the month of April when rushing water from the spring melt coming from the escarpment ripped out culverts on the west side of Highway 32 at the south dike, causing water to back up very quickly. Out of an abundance of caution, the situation prompted the City to issue an evacuation notice for residents near the south dike until the situation stabilized.
"And this is why the Province is putting more and more box culverts in than these steel culverts unless they're really fully sized. There was so much water that flowed that it wasn't able to deal with it, and ultimately a little bit of the water got underneath and started lifting it up and then once it lifted, water is extremely powerful. Once it started to lift, there was very little that could be done to save that."
According to Siemens, the city itself doesn't have anything left to resolve or repair from the water events of 2023. He says they do recognize there are a number of businesses and a number of homeowners in the community that dealt with significant water events, which still need to be finalized. "We certainly want to be cognizant of that and aware of that," added Siemens.