'There's gonna be a lot of open water' N.W.T. elder warns amid delayed freeze-up conditions

After record-high water levels and rates of flow in rivers, lakes and streams in the Northwest Territories this summer, the government is warning the problem is likely to persist into winter.

Taltson River water flow rate nearly 3 times higher than usual, territorial gov't says

A file photo of record-high water levels below the Taltson dam in 2019. As of last week, the river flow rate was almost three times higher than usual, the territory says. (Submitted)

Water levels and rates of flow in rivers, lakes and streams in the Northwest Territories are higher than usual for this time of year, the territorial government warned on Thursday.

This summer, many of the territory's water bodies had record-high water levels after significant rain and snow, according to a news release issued by the government.

Water levels have remained high through the fall and are expected to persist throughout the winter, the government says.

Great Slave Lake at Yellowknife Bay, for example, has an average water level this time of year of 156.5 metres. But as of Wednesday, the water level was about 50 centimetres higher, at 157 metres, the release says.

Other water bodies have shown similar increases, like near the mouth of the Tazin River, which is located near Fort Smith. It's water flow rate is typically 60 cubic metres of water per second this time of year. As of Oct. 15, that rate was 372 cubic metres per second.

The Lockhart River, at the Artillery Lake outlet near Lutselk'e, N.W.T., typically has a flow rate of 132 cubic metres per second at this time of year. But as of Nov. 18, it was at 249 cubic metres per second.

The Taltson River, below the hydro dam, is normally at 215 cubic metres per second. This year, as of Nov. 12, it was close to three times higher, at 628 cubic metres per second.

Rough ice could pose challenge, says elder

John Louison Sr., an elder in Fort Good Hope, says he's rarely seen ice conditions like the ones he saw on the Mackenzie River a few weeks ago.

"There's gonna be a lot of open water in some spots, which is going to be hard to see," Louison says.

When the Mackenzie River does completely freeze up, rough ice will likely make it more difficult for people to cross, says Louison Sr. He says the community will have to wait for the temperature to drop before those crossings can open.

The government warned high water levels and flow rates could mean freeze-up on many water bodies will happen later than usual, and it may cause thin ice in places where it is normally thicker and stable. It could also mean changes in water overflow on land and ice.

As a safety precaution, people should tell family and friends where they are going when they're out on the land, and when they plan to be back, the government says. 

It also says to travel in a group and "make sure someone at home knows who is with you."

People should prepare for changing weather conditions and bring an emergency survival kit, check in regularly with home when possible and check the weather and ice conditions in the area.


  • A previous version of this story incorrectly situated the Lockhart River near Fort Smith. In fact, it is near Lutselk'e, N.W.T.
    Nov 20, 2020 10:11 AM CT

With files from Wanda McLeod