Low Gatineau River water levels leave some out to dry

People who live and play along the Gatineau River between Chelsea and Low, Que., say they’ve been left high and dry after Hydro-Québec lowered water levels for work.

Water levels lowered for work on Chelsea, Que., hydroelectric dam

Heather Horak hauls essential supplies to her seasonal home using a pontoon boat. She says the lowered water levels left the boat stranded for much of the month. (Submitted by Heather Horak)

People who live and play along the Gatineau River between Chelsea and Low, Que., say they've been left high and dry after Hydro-Québec lowered water levels.

The change was needed to work on the hydroelectric dam in Chelsea — with rocks now emerging from the river like miniature islands. 

Heather Horak relies on the river for her seasonal home's water and hauls essential supplies using a pontoon boat.

"It's [been] a real struggle to get to the shoreline because it isn't just a different shoreline, but a beach of mud to get through," she said from her home on the eastern shore, describing the mud as like quicksand.

The boat was stranded about six metres away from the shoreline in late April, and Horak was only able to put it back in water on Sunday after hiring a team to help her. 

She has been collecting rainwater and hopes it can be used to flush her toilet and wash dishes.

Wanted more notice 

While she chooses to live in a residence that requires boating in, Horak wishes she'd been given more notice. The lowered levels come with a financial cost, she said.

"It will have an impact on my seasonal cottage rentals. I know that's true for [other] people as well," she said.

Chelsea resident Barbara Hogan is worried about the low water's impact on wildlife. 

She regularly walks a multi-use path in the area and typically sees ponds "brimming with turtles." 

Chelsea resident Barbara Hogan is worried about what impact the water level is having on wildlife. (Submitted by Barbara Hogan)

"I'm just noticing the last couple of weeks drying up with no rain coming and the lowering levels of the Gatineau," she said.

Hogan wants something to be done to stop the ponds from drying up, noting some local species are already threatened due to habitat loss and degradation. 

She's grateful for the rain that fell over the region this week, but is still worried about the turtles. 

"I've never seen anybody coming down there," she said. "I've never seen any communication about the situation."

Work will be finished end of month

Alain Paquette, spokesperson for Hydro-Québec, says the work on the dam will be completed by the end of the month and water levels will rise after that. 

He said Hydro-Québec received the green light from the appropriate environmental protections authorities and communities like Chelsea put notice of the work on their website. 

Similar notices were also made on Facebook and people were able to call their project information phone line with questions, he said.

Paquette said his team worked with local municipalities to help address concerns. 

"We understand the concerns of the citizens, and that's why our environmental specialists closely monitor the progress of the work," Paquette said.

"Hydro-Québec and the municipality of Chelsea are working closely together to limit the impact on the municipal water intake."

With files from CBC Radio's All in a Day

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