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Lake Wahtopanah's 2020 record high becomes 2023 low water

Before school started, Monday, Sept. 4 was a great day to do some travelling around southwestern Manitoba to check out Lake Wahtopanah.

Here, in Rivers Provincial Park there’s 38 hectares of mixed-grass prairie and a riparian area, making it a scenic spot for campers. In three years Lake Wahtopanah has gone from a frightening flood stage to this fall's low level. All the lakes and rivers in southwestern Manitoba are at low levels this 2023 fall season.

Lake Wahtopanah was created by damming up the Little Saskatchewan River. Its dam was built by the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration in 1960 to supplement water supplies for irrigation. Now, recreation seems to be the main attraction with camping and amenities as well as, across the lake, cottages.

In late June and early July of 2020, heavy rainfall in southwestern Manitoba caused record flooding on the Little Saskatchewan River that adversely affected the dams at Rapid City and Rivers. At that time, the dam’s integrity came into question and immediate downstream residents were on evacuation watch and some evacuated.

The water level at the Rivers dam reached record-high levels, affecting surrounding communities including Brandon, and the rural municipalities of Riverdale and Whitehead. 

Dam repair

On March 29, 2022 the Manitoba government announced the contract to KGS Group Ltd. for design of the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the Rivers Dam on Lake Wahtopanah.

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Doyle Piwniuk said, “The heavy rainfall event that occurred in the summer of 2020 saw unprecedented water flows that put communities and dams located along the river at risk. As a government, we want residents in these communities and all Manitobans to be safe and have confidence in their local infrastructure… we are investing in this critical infrastructure to make sure the Rivers Dam is properly engineered and built safely and to provincial and national standards.”

“For many years, Lake Wahtopanah has been a place where people gather and the Rivers reservoir is an important part of this community,” said Municipal Relations Minister Eileen Clarke.

“The reservoir is also an important part of our province’s system of drainage and water storage, and the dam here performs an important function by helping moderate flows on the Little Saskatchewan River to protect people from flooding. This investment will ensure the dam continues to protect Manitobans for years to come.” 

Piwniuk noted interim repair work on the spillway was completed in winter 2021 and the dam has performed well since then, including during the spring runoff in 2021.The rehabilitation project will bring the existing dam to current standards so it can safely operate during extreme flood events. 

KGS will do those permanent repairs. The final design based on Canadian Dam Association guidelines, will result in the capability to pass higher water levels.

Construction began this year, 2023, but it is expected to take approximately three years to complete, noted Piwniuk. 

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