A roadblock was set up at the West Channel Bridge on May 4 of last year for the evacuation of Vale Island during the spring breakup of the Hay River.
NNSL file photo

The Town of Hay River is bracing for spring breakup and the possibility of flooding on Vale Island.

And this year, the town is considering how the continuing high water on the Hay River and in Great Slave Lake will impact breakup.

“I think it has to be concerning with respect to how it might influence the breakup,” said Glenn Smith, the town’s senior administrative officer (SAO), in comments to The Hub on March 18.

“It’s a variable,” he said of the high water. “There are a lot of variables that need to be considered in trying to forecast what will ultimately determine if there will be flooding for the area, especially Vale Island.”

Smith said those variables include ice thickness on the lake and river, flow rates, the amount of water in the lake, the amount of water coming down the river, snow melt, snowpack levels and temperatures.

“There are so many things that it often makes it difficult each year,” he said. “We spend a lot of time and we have a lot of history in monitoring, and there’s been some forecasting studies completed. But there are so many variables that lead right up to that event of breakup that it’s hard to determine what might happen. But the added water levels, it’s unprecedented. I think we’ve got to respect that and try to work that into our planning and responses.”

It is estimated that the water is up to two and a half feet higher than normal on Great Slave Lake.

“The river seems to be higher, as well,” said Smith. “Will it change much over the next month? Probably not.”

The SAO said one positive sign appears to be that ice levels on the river are below normal.

“There’s more ice volume because, on the rivers, they’re wider, but the actual thickness is less and there’s likely to be a fair amount of water flowing underneath the ice,” he said. “So having water that flows under the ice is thought to be a good sign that helps with the outflow of ice during a breakup.”

During the March 15 online meeting of town council, Ross Potter, the director of protective services, said the focus is now on preparing for breakup, including by getting monitoring equipment ready and meeting with members of the Emergency Measures Organization.

Potter also noted the high water levels.

“The lake is two to three feet higher than what it normally is at this point in time,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Robert Bouchard noted information will be going out to town residents in advance of breakup.

“We will be assembling our normal packages we send out every year,” he said. “We’re just getting some final details put together on that.”

Bouchard added there will also be work done to organize an information meeting, possibly online or perhaps in-person.

And as always, the town is getting ready for the possibility that flooding may require an evacuation of Vale Island.

“The town is preparing evacuation procedures that will again consider any Covid restrictions, and we’re hoping this year that the Covid restrictions will be a little more favourable to supporting the evacuation,” said Smith. “Last year, there were no allowances to stay in other people’s homes. We couldn’t work towards a community evacuation centre.”

This year, the town is working with the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer and the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs on getting a better understanding of what will be permitted, which may allow possible evacuees to stay with family members.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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