High water levels in Lake Winnipeg harm business, tourism

Sandy Roman calls her job “the best job in the whole world,” but lately she’s been dealing with a world of disappointment.

Roman owns Sandy’s Chipstand, a diner in Patricia Beach Provincial Park, along the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg, which is experiencing the worst flooding since Manitoba Hydro began regulating levels in 1976.

“It’s a little difficult. It’s a little difficult, sure. You just don’t know when you wake up in the morning, am I going to go to work today? Are people going to get fries?” she told the CBC Information radio host Marcy Marcus on Friday.

The flooding forced her to close business intermittently throughout the summer, for a total of 23 days in a season that lasts only 3 1/2 months.

For 14 years, she has operated the waterfront parking near the beach parking lot, and while about a decade ago she saw high water that forced her to close for 14 days, this year’s flooding is new.

Sandy’s Chipstand returns to shore at Patricia Beach Provincial Park. (Sandy Roman/Facebook)

This led to another challenge.

“I need to get a job, say, this winter. I need to get a job to be able to man the chip stand because I have rent, I have cars that I pay for, and this year there just isn’t enough money to last me through the winter,” Roman said.

“This is the first time. So I guess I’m going to post a resume.”

The lake swelled due to an unusually snowy winter that led to heavy spring runoff in the six rivers that feed the lake, exacerbated by unusually high rainfall. The Winnipeg River experienced its largest flood on record, while the Red River reached its sixth-highest level on record.

Some beaches are sometimes pieces of sand a meter wide, instead of 30 or more meters.

The once wide sandy beach was almost non-existent at Lake Winnipeg’s Albert Beach for several days this summer. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Whenever the lake rises above 715 feet above sea level, Manitoba Hydro is required to dump as much water as possible into the Nelson River at the Jenpeg Power Station north of the lake. The recommended operating range for the lake is 711 to 715 feet.

The water level peaked a few weeks ago at 717.5 feet and has since dropped only slightly, measuring 717.35 on Friday morning.

“The lake is so high that as soon as any north wind blows, it fills up our lagoons that we have and then it fills up my parking lot and the road and nobody can get there,” Roman said.

“People still come out, which is great because they really like Patricia Beach, but the beaches are small [and] Everything around the bathrooms is dirty because the grass has disappeared due to the waterlogging.’

Manitoba Hydro representative Scott Powell, whose cottage was affected by the water, said there was nothing the corporation could do to lower the level.

“We reached the maximum release from the Jenpeg control structure at the end of May,” he said, adding that 170,000 cubic feet of water per second has been released since then.

By comparison, last year’s peak discharge was 31,000 cubic feet per second.

“We sympathize with all property owners and vacationers, resource users and all those business owners around Lake Winnipeg. It’s been an absolutely incredible year,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to help improve the lake level.”

According to him, the HPP cannot increase the output because it is simply physically impossible.

“There’s as much water as you can put through the generating station and spillway.”

The Patricia Beach parking lot was under water a lot this summer. (Sandy Roman/Facebook)

Predicting when people will get some relief “is a bit of a crystal ball,” Powell said. However, with projected normal rainfall and continued runoff, the lake level could reach 176.0 in about two weeks.

Although people still show up at Patricia Beach, the numbers are a fraction of a normal summer, Roman said.

“I’d say we’re getting a quarter to a third of what we normally get,” Roman said, as two of the three parking lots were closed for the season due to flooding.

She hopes the province will take steps to help alleviate some of the problems, such as temporarily introducing potties to make bathrooms more accessible.

Several times this summer Sandy’s Chipstand became almost inaccessible due to flooding. (Sandy Roman/Facebook)

But really, she just wants to see everything normal again.

“I hope next year it’s over. It’s got to be better. It’s got to be better,” she said.

Her job usually brings her such joy because “everyone is always so happy to come here,” she said.

“It’s the best job in the whole world because you just see all their smiling faces because they’re on the beach. Life is good when you’re on the beach.”

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