'Eye on the river:' Increased monitoring and alerts coming as central Labrador prepares for spring melt

The provincial government says it has eyes on the Churchill River after the community of Mud Lake and low-lying areas of Happy Valley-Goose Bay flooded last year.
Anatoly Venovcev is the geographic information system technician for the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and the town's representative on the flood watch committee. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Water was already coming in to some houses in Mud Lake by the time emergency services kicked in to evacuate the community during flooding last year.

With the one year anniversary of that flood just over a month away, the provincial government has put in a new system. It now says if the same flood were to happen again, this time, there'd be much more warning given.

"We can't stop flooding, but we can at least give flood alerts and flood warnings," said Ali Khan, manager of the province's water resources management division.

Satellite imagery, ground-penetrating radar and the addition of ten new water monitoring stations along the Churchill River, seven of which have already been installed, hope to give authorities a better idea of what's going on on the river and if there's anything that could lead to trouble. The information being gathered is also part of an online portal accessible by the public.

Ali Khan is the manager of the water resources management division (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

"Now you can exactly see where the water is [in] respect to the river bank," said Khan, referring to the additional monitoring stations being put in, pointing specifically at the stations that have been installed in Mud Lake and on the shores of the lower valley in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. 

It is a complete eye on the river.- Ali Khan

"You can actually see what the trend is: is it going up, is it going down? That's the first insight they get, which they never had before."

Photos taken from a satellite will also show the make up of the ice, where it's smooth, where it may be compacted and where there is open water. Data collected from a helicopter using ground-penetrating radar can show the ice thickness at any point along the river.

Satellite imagery shows how the ice is acting on the river. Yellow shows where it's flat, red shows where it's compacted and blue shows where there is open water. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"It is a complete eye on the river," Khan said.

Emergency Alerts

It won't just be machines and computers watching the river — about a dozen people within the government will be watching too — and if there is something that suggests trouble, emergency services will be alerted. 

"The warning will go out to Fire and Emergency Services Newfoundland [and Labrador] who are already set up to warn Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Mud Lake," Khan said.

Data shows water levels began rising about 5 days before the water hit its peak on the river last year. If the same system were in place today officials say people would have had at least 12 to 24 hours notice of the danger.

Town officials said once they have been alerted of an emergency they will let residents know by way of a "mass notification emergency system."

The opt-in service will allow people to choose how they want to be notified in the case of an emergency — by text, email or a phone call. It will become available later this month.

"Having this early warning system in place does provide us with a sense of confidence that we are much, much more prepared for this spring than last," said Anatoly Venovcev, the town's rep on the flood watch committee.

"We can respond if something does happen."

More to come

The most recent budget also promises more improvements are on the way. A million dollars was set aside to conduct flood-risk mapping and flood forecasting.

Photos taken from the air show the damage from flooding in Mud Lake. (Yvonne Jones)

MHA Perry Trimper said that information can help to predict rare events that only happen once every 25 or 50 years. 

About the Author

Jacob Barker

Videojournalist

Jacob Barker reports on Labrador for CBC News from Happy Valley-Goose Bay.