It 'looks like a big lawn sprinkler': River spraying starts in Dawson City

The Yukon government is trying a $100,000 science experiment to help freeze the Yukon River at Dawson City.

Technique used in community for the first time to accelerate natural freezing

Workers examine the span they intend to help freeze in Dawson City. (Government of Yukon, Department of Highways and Public Works)

The Yukon government is firing a water cannon across the Yukon River.

It's part of a plan to build what the territory's transportation minister has called an "Ice Band-Aid." 

The technique has long been used in the N.W.T. but it's new to the Yukon. 

The government is trying to accelerate the freezing of a roughly 70-metre-wide span of the Yukon River in Dawson City, to connect people who live on both sides.

Clint Ireland, director of transportation maintenance with Yukon Highways and Public Works says the yellow machine "looks like a big lawn sprinkler."

The device was trucked in via the Dempster Highway from Fort McPherson, N.W.T. 

The pump shoots river water high into the air. Depending on temperature, tiny droplets might freeze before they hit the ground. The goal is to gradually close the gap between both sides of the river, then solidify the ice bridge.

Such a machine has been used in previous years to help create the ice crossing on the Mackenzie River near Tsiigehtchic. 

The technique has long been used in the NWT. This archive photo shows the building of an ice crossing on the Mackenzie River near Tsiigehtchic in 2011. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

West Dawson waits for ice bridge

Last year, the Yukon River at Dawson City froze exceptionally late in the season. At one point, people were paying helicopter companies to carry groceries to West Dawson. 

Residents of West Dawson opened an alternate route further upstream. The unofficial road allows people to cross on snowmobiles or walk. The winding path takes more than an hour on foot. 

Some people have even driven across in cars and trucks in recent days, though they do so at their own risk. Emergency vehicles would not be allowed to use the alternate route.

Ireland says the first spraying began on Tuesday and the entire project could cost $100,000. 

The project will require about six people who will be working during daylight hours. 

It's not clear how long they'll be spraying. 

"It has been done before, but it's new to us," Ireland said. "We'll know better by the end of the week how things are progressing. I'm hoping that we'll be making good progress and we'll start to see the channel getting smaller at least within the week."

This photo from 2016 shows open water flowing near Dawson City. Last year's unusually late freeze inspired this year's program. (Will Fellers)

With files from Sandi Coleman


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