A curious person walks across the Park Lake lakebed. The lake emptied after the dam burst two years ago.Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 14, 2022 at 08:17

By Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A dry, parched lakebed and broken dam is all that remains of Neepawa’s Park Lake, which lies 74 kilometres from Brandon.

Once lush with vegetation and alive with the calls of waterfowl after the town’s historic rainfall on July 1, 2020, things haven’t been the same in the secluded spot.

The lake, which in 2020 served as the town’s reservoir, spilled over the dam and onto nearby streets, making its way into basements and causing untold damage in flooding to homes and businesses. The water that broke the dam had spilled into Park Lake from the Whitemud River, which was already swollen from absorbing creeks west of town.

The entire town, and even residents from surrounding communities, came together with sandbagging efforts and other attempts to minimize the damage that occurred when the dam broke. While most of the flooding damage that occurred two years ago has been fixed, it has taken the town a while to tackle the problem of the empty lake.

The town recently put out the tender for contractors to replace the dam and reservoir and construct a new dam and spillway, with the deadline for applications listed as July 22 at 2 p.m.

Neepawa Mayor Blake McCutcheon said the town will be using disaster relief assistance it received from the federal government, along with some money from the provincial government, to fund the project.

“It’s all been approved and now we’re moving forward with all the tenders we need to bring the lake back to where it was before July 1, 2020.”

McCutcheon knows the people of the community will be excited at the progress that’s taking place at Park Lake, saying some people didn’t realize what a gem the location was until it was gone.

“I’ve had more comments than ever before from people saying they missed it … it’s definitely going to be nice to have it back.”

A lot of work to mitigate the breaching of the dam was done when the flood first happened. Collen Synchyshyn, chief administrative officer for the Town of Neepawa, said the timeline for the project will be determined by the tender submissions they receive. With recent flooding affecting many communities in Westman, it has been difficult to find contractors.

Richard Masters, a member of the board of directors with the Neepawa Bird Sanctuary, said the loss of the lake affected the birds and other animals at the sanctuary, which backs up onto Park Lake. Predators such as coyotes were able to walk across the dried-out lakebed in order to gain access to the animals, and the waterfowl have been making do with swimming in paddling pools — a far cry from the lake that was once their playground.

Masters said he is looking forward to the project’s completion, since it will add to the welfare of the animals at the bird sanctuary.

This item reprinted with permission from The Sun, Brandon, Manitoba