Original Published 14:24 May 13, 2022

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The federal government says it has made “significant investments” in recent years to reduce the risk of flooding and flood-related damage in the Peguis First Nation, despite the fact the community continues to have no permanent flood protection and has faced flooding five times in the last 16 years.

Peguis, a First Nations community located more than 150 kilometres north of Winnipeg, continues to deal with devastating flooding this week from the overflowing banks of the Fisher River, and as of Friday, more than 1,900 residents of the community had been evacuated, with many now living out of hotel rooms in Winnipeg and other southern Manitoba communities.

This year’s flood in Peguis, which is Manitoba’s largest First Nations community, and is home to more than 3,500 on-reserve residents, follows previous floods in the community in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2014.

On Friday, an Indigenous Services Canada spokesperson confirmed to the Winnipeg Sun that the federal government and the province split the cost of a study that was undertaken in 2006 that looked at the reasons for flooding in Peguis and to determine what permanent solutions could be undertaken to mitigate flooding risks in the community.

“In 2006, Canada and Manitoba provided approximately $3.1 million, cost-shared 50-50, for a study undertaken by AECOM Canada to examine the causes of flooding on the Fisher River, and flood protection options for Peguis First Nation,” the spokesperson said.

According to the spokesperson, the study put forth several options for improving flood protection in Peguis, including an option to construct a flood diversion channel, and another to build a series of dikes.

But as of this spring, there continues to be no permanent flood protection in Peguis.

“We have asked for a diversion (channel). We have asked for ring diking. We have asked for elevated roads … but nothing has occurred,” Peguis First Nation Chief Glenn Hudson said in a recent media interview.

When asked why none of the possible options listed in the report have been acted upon, the spokesperson would only say that, “the AECOM Canada study concluded mitigation measures were possible, but would likely cost several hundred million dollars, and would likely not prevent all types of flooding such as overland flooding.”

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) is also saying that they have made what they say are “significant investments” into flood mitigation efforts in Peguis.

“Since 2015, ISC has invested $3,073,243 to assist Peguis First Nation with flood-fighting preparation and response. This includes activities such as sandbagging, ditch clearing, culvert steaming, snow removal, and pumping of water,” the spokesperson said.

“Since 2015, ISC also invested $3,564,159 for long-term flood mitigation at Peguis including wells and septic field protection, repairs for dikes around vulnerable structures, sump pumps, and road inspections.”

In comments made by Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu on May 6 in Ottawa, the minister said that the feds will be looking into the issue of flooding in Peguis, now that the community has dealt with yet another flood.

“There is a history of flooding in this community, and we have some important work to do once we get through this crisis period to talk about the future of supporting Peguis in resiliency efforts,” Hajdu said.

The Winnipeg Sun also reached out to the province asking for comment on the 2006 study and the continued lack of permanent flood protection in Peguis, and in an email, a provincial spokesperson said “this lies with the federal government as they are the decision-makers with First Nations.”

The spokesperson did claim that this spring’s flooding in Peguis will likely lead to “reviews” of the community’s flood mitigation infrastructure by the province, once the floodwaters have receded.

“The levels on the Fisher River this year have reached record levels, and the issues in this area are very complex, and therefore would require flood infrastructure to meet the needs of those complexities,” the province said. “This spring’s run-off event will prompt further reviews and will have to be done post-flood with the First Nation and surrounding communities and with the federal government.

“The province will work in collaboration with communities and the federal government to assist them in providing long-term flood mitigation improvements.”

— With files from the Canadian Press

This item reprinted with permission from Winnipeg Sun, Winnipeg, Manitoba