North

As Mackenzie River breakup continues, some N.W.T. communities watch for flooding

As the Mackenzie River continues its spring breakup through the Northwest Territories, people in the territory's Sahtu and Beaufort Delta regions are eyeing the river for signs of potential flooding.

Ice buildup in Norman Wells and Fort Good Hope has people eyeing the river for potential floods

Ice is just starting to move on the Mackenzie River near Fort Good Hope. An ice jam has developed that some worry could lead to flooding. (Submitted by John T'seleie)

As the Mackenzie River continues its spring breakup through the Northwest Territories, people in the territory's Sahtu and Beaufort Delta regions are eyeing the river for signs of potential flooding.

So far, it's been a relatively quiet spring flooding season along the Mackenzie River.

Fort Simpson saw high water but it receded before officials needed to declare a state of emergency. Meanwhile, Wrigley and Tulita, the next two communities along the river's 1,700-kilometre path, saw the river break up without anything unusual happening. 

But further north, conditions are developing that some river watchers say could lead to flooding. 

In Tsiigehtchic, breakup is still a few days away and Mickey Andre's eyeing the river carefully. This year's conditions remind him of when he was a kid and the ice thundered and crashed as it broke up. 

"It hasn't been this way in a long time," he said. "We've had quite a few mild winters, the last five years maybe –40 C at the coldest for a couple days, but this year we had 45 to 50 below.

"That really made a difference in our ice conditions," he said. 

In order to get that ice moving, the water's got to come, so I'm thinking we're going to get a little bit of flooding- Mickey Andre, Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T. 

Andre estimates the ice is at least a metre thick and says the river will build up a lot of power moving it out of the way. Creeks and lakes are still frozen solid and aren't running yet, he said. 

"In order to get that ice moving, the water's got to come, so I'm thinking we're going to get a little bit of flooding," he said. 

In Aklavik, some people raised this issue a few months ago, as spring flood preparations were just beginning, again pointing to the heavy snow and ice. The community sits on an elbow of the Peel Channel, which is just off the main river. 

Since the ice hasn't started moving there, it's too soon to tell whether those predictions will come true.

In Tsiigehtchic, the ice isn't moving yet, but when it does, Mickey Andre suspects it could bring spring flooding. (Submitted by Mickey Andre)
 

Meanwhile, in Norman Wells, Leon Andrew is seeing the ice just starting to clear from his home, about one kilometre from the main town, where the water is already higher than usual. Near the town, the ice hasn't moved. 

"I can see most of the boat docks are still under water, the water is completely covering the three town docks," he said. 

He says it's been a strange spring, with temperatures warming up, then cooling down again. It's taken a bit longer than usual for the snow to melt. 

Over in Fort Good Hope, John T'seleie is watching an ice jam develop where the river bends just outside the community near the ramparts. Ice started moving Wednesday evening and there's a bit of open water near the community. 

"Right now in front of the community there's three sheets of ice and that's blocking the movement," T'seleie said. "Downstream you can see the ice is stuck there, upstream you can see open water."

"The ice will be jammed upstream where the river bottlenecks." 

Chunks of ice pile up on the riverbank in Fort Good Hope. This cold winter and cold start to spring mean there is thick ice that needs to break up. (Submitted by Anne Jackson)
 

Fort Good Hope isn't usually prone to flooding, with T'seleie saying he only remembers one or two floods happening in the last 50 years or so. But there's a section in town with about seven or eight households that is susceptible to flooding when the river gets high. 

He's hoping it warms up over the next few days, the ice melts and the water can flow without an issue, continuing the Mackenzie's quiet spring breakup. 

But as always, T'seleie and others on the Mackenzie River are watching, just to be sure.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now