The river breakup season so far appears to be comparable to last year’s conditions as the Town of Hay River begins planning for potential flooding in the coming weeks.

Municipal staff presented an updated Emergency Plan at the April 4 meeting of the Standing Committee of Council. The topics included how the town will prepare, responding to and managing flood emergencies, who takes charge and how the community will recover.

Typically, breakup and jamming of the Hay River takes place between the last week of April and the first two weeks of May.

Senior administrative officer Glenn Smith said in an April 6 email that the town has been reviewing environmental data to assess what the breakup season may look like.

Early estimates show that the season may be comparable to 2021, he said.

“We are still collecting and analyzing data which includes ice thickness surveys that provide some general indicators of risk,” he said. “Conditions are very similar to last year, which is not favourable… Water levels are again high.”

Smith added that snow pack levels are between nine per cent and 39 per cent higher than average for the South Slave.

Higher levels of snow melt often lead to increased water and a greater possibility of repeated freeze-thaw conditions that thickens river ice.

With weather forecasts anticipating temperatures to be cool through much of the rest of this month, residents could be facing a potentially challenging 2022 flood season.

“Ice jamming is what causes flooding on our system (and) jams are very unpredictable so we prepare for the worst as best we can,” said Smith.

Excess water affecting the town’s drainage systems and associated costs are among the biggest concerns for the town in a flood season.

In 2021, the municipality spent more than $130,000 to repair public infrastructure damaged by flooding. Smith said the town has applied this year for $1.3 million in federal assistance to address outstanding damage to the West Channel berm caused by flood damage.

Flood planning team

The town has a flood planning team, which has been meeting weekly since March. The team includes Smith, overseeing communications; recreation director Stephane Millette is in charge of the town’s reception centre; and acting public works director Earle Dumas is overseeing flood mitigation efforts and operational support.

Coun. Robert Bouchard is the council representative and protective services director Travis Wright is responsible for monitoring and operations in the event of a breakup.

Bouchard said during the April 4 meeting that the annual breakup season gives the town an opportunity to review its emergency services and ensure that they are adequate and ready for use.

“A month before the evacuation or potential evacuation in the breakup happens, there are lots of crews and volunteers that have helped through their own process,” he said. “It takes a lot of time away from our fire chief as well as the SAO during this whole month.”

Evacuation

Last year, the Town of Hay River and several communities along the Mackenzie River experienced flooding emergencies that led to evacuation orders.

Hay River put in place an evacuation order for Vale Island for the second year in a row in 2021.

Although the municipality took in flood evacuees last year — particularly from Fort Simpson — town officials said that they are less likely to do so this year.

“It doesn’t appear that we are identified as the host community for these communities because we have our own breakup and our own potential evacuees to look after,” Travis Wright, director of protective services, told council. “So we shouldn’t expect an impact from that.”

Much of the existing assessment is based on expectations that Yellowknife will be able to take in people, Smith said. That had not been the case for the capital city in 2021 due to Covid-19.

However, the town will have a registration and evacuation centre to take incoming evacuees if it becomes necessary.

The GNWT’s Department of Municipal and Community Affairs is planning a media briefing session in the coming days where more information will be provided.

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

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