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Dropping water level on Kluane Lake causing problems, MLA says

The water level on Kluane Lake began dropping last year after a river of glacial meltwater abruptly changed course, leaving docks and boat ramps high and dry.

The lake level began to fall last year, after a river of glacial meltwater abruptly changed course

Lower water on Kluane Lake means it's harder to float a boat at the Destruction Bay marina, says Kluane MLA Wade Istchenko. (Submitted by Wade Istchenko)

Kluane MLA Wade Istchenko says receding water levels on Kluane Lake are posing a problem for his constituents — and he wants the government to respond.

The lake level first dropped last year, after the Kaskawulsh Glacier retreated so much that its meltwater abruptly switched direction, away from Kluane Lake. Researchers have blamed climate change for the geologic phenomenon referred to as "river piracy".

Istchenko raised the issue Tuesday in the Yukon legislature. He said people are worried about the retreating waterline, especially as it affects the Destruction Bay boat launch.

'Will the government commit to finishing the dredging and upgrades to Destruction Bay marina this year?' Istchenko asked. (Yukon Party)

"This is a very busy lake with only two boat launches — one at Destruction Bay, the other at Sheep Mountain," Istchenko said. "And [Sheep Mountain] currently poses a number of risks, as the large rocks surrounding it are dangerous and could damage equipment."

Istchenko says the lower water level means boats can't be easily floated at the launch, which affects local businesses, recreation, and also potential emergency rescue efforts.

In a letter to Istchenko, RCMP called the Destruction Bay launch "the most strategic position of launch location from which to access the lake, moderating travel times in all directions."

Dredging and upgrades

Istchenko said there were plans for Yukon's department of public works to dredge a channel to the marina last year, because the government holds the water license to the facility. He says it hasn't happened yet.

"Will the government commit to finishing the dredging and upgrades to Destruction Bay marina this year?" Istchenko asked.  

Public Works minister Richard Mostyn said he first wants to wait to see if it gets worse. 

"As of today, [we] do not know the extent to which the lake is going to drain. We could do work right now and find out that we have to do more," Mostyn said.

"This is an evolving issue, it's a new issue." 

Mostyn also said Kluane Lake is another concrete example of the impacts of climate change in Yukon. He also cited the Yukon River's not freezing over last winter at Dawson City, and infrastructure such as schools and roads "falling apart" because of thawing permafrost.

Mostyn chided opposition Yukon Party MLAs for opposing a federal carbon tax, saying they "don't seem to acknowledge the existence of climate change".

"Climate change is going to affect all of us. It's going to make our lives more inconvenient, and it is going to make running our society a lot more expensive," Mostyn said. 

Istchenko scoffed at Mostyn's assessment, saying the marina at Kluane Lake is "a maintenance issue, just like plowing our roads."  

Yukon's Kaskawulsh glacier retreated far enough last year to sent its meltwater in a different direction - down the Kaskawulsh River, instead of the Slims Valley. (CBC)

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