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Flood prevention project could harm First Nation communities in Manitoba says report

April 12, 2024

Report findings on Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin Outlet Channels Project released to public.

A new report released by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada this week suggests a proposed flood prevention project could harm surrounding First Nation communities.

APTN News: The draft environmental assessment report suggests the Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin Outlet Channels Project could bring several adverse impacts for Indigenous peoples. This includes the use of the land and resources for traditional purposes, the loss of physical and cultural heritage, and impacts on species of cultural importance.

Shirley Thompson, an associate professor at the University of Manitoba’s Natural Resource Institute and the head of the Mino Bimaadiziwin Partnership, which has worked to amplify First Nations who oppose the project, said the project was flawed from the start.

“It didn’t consider climate change, which is totally inappropriate in this era, and it had wrong hydrological flows, wrong sediment flows, so many problems in the actual hydrological modeling that was the basis of this project,” she said.

Flood protection project
A gathering in February to review the plan. Photo courtesy: Shirley Thompson

In 2011, members of Lake St. Martin First Nation were permanently displaced by a flood. A total of 18 First Nations were evacuated.

The $540 million outlet channels project was proposed by Manitoba Transport and Infrastructure in 2012 to prevent future flooding by creating two 24-kilometer-long flood diversion channels.

Over the years, a handful of First Nations have sounded the alarm on the project’s environmental impacts. In February, a group of First Nations signed a document demanding the outlet channels project be halted immediately.

On Wednesday, Lisa Naylor, Manitoba’s minister of Transport and Infrastructure, told APTN News, that the province is taking the report’s findings into account and will continue consulting with Indigenous communities.

“Folks have talked about disruptions to their traditional ways of life, to impacting fishing, hunting, they have concerns about various movement, various animals around the area, impact on traplines, and so those are important things that we need to understand and work with those concerns carefully,” Naylor said.

Flood protection project
A map of the area that will be affected if the plan goes ahead. Photo courtesy: Shirley Thompson.

Thompson said the Mino Bimaadiziwin Partnership has urged those in power to examine alternatives to the outlet channels project. She added that a more sustainable, environmentally friendly solution exists: wetlands restoration.

“There were always wetlands, they were drained for agriculture. Now we need those wetlands back, and it will benefit agriculture too because they won’t be experiencing a drought, right? So, they will have water on the land that they can irrigate their crops (with),” Thompson said. “It will work for flooding, it will work for agriculture. There are ways to do this.”

The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada invites Indigenous groups and the public to comment on the draft environmental assessment report from now until May 8.

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