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Rising waters force some Inuvik residents from their homes, MLA says

A drone shot shows the extent of flooding by May 31, with water overflowed from the river into the nearby lakes and back flowing up the hill. (photo courtesy of Kristian Binder/Eighty One Images)

Fast-rising waters of the Mackenzie River are causing flooding in parts of the Beaufort-Delta, forcing some Inuvik residents to leave their cabins, says Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler.

Speaking in the Legislative Assembly on June 2, Semmler called on Premier Caroline Cochrane, who is also minister of the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA), for assistance in helping people in the Inuvik area face the threat of flooding.

"Many residents in my community have been forced to leave their cabins. Some had water rising in the middle of the night and had to plan to get out the next day by helicopter as a result of the water rising," Semmler said.

Lesa Semmler, MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes, said on Tuesday in the Legislative Assembly that water levels in the Inuvik region have been rising for years.
Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

"In some cases, people have had to leave a lot of their personal belongings and have suffered great loss to their cabins, their personal property."

Water levels in the Beaufort-Delta are at their highest in 17 years, the MLA said, citing an Environment Canada report that indicated a measurement of 16.5 metres.

In response, Cochrane committed to reaching out to community governments in the Inuvik region to inform them of what assistance is available.

The premier said MACA's disaster assistance policy provides help with infrastructure, roads and private properties. Furthermore, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources' harvester disaster compensation program offers support to NWT harvesters whose assets have been lost or damaged.

Funding would be available for flood-affected residents of the Beaufort-Delta if they qualify under the Disaster Assistance Policy, Cochrane said.

Semmler told the assembly that flooding in the delta has been an issue for years and she remembers as a child being moved from her bed, out of a window and into a boat because her cabin was flooding.

"This does happen, but it doesn't happen as often as we have seen it lately, and the water seems to be rising with climate change causing the changes in the Arctic and the delta so drastically, more than anywhere else in the country," she said.

Cochrane said climate change is affecting the North more than any other area in Canada and the NWT should keep reminding the federal government of that reality so that "proactive money versus just reactive money" is available to aid residents.

Among other effects of climate change, one issue predicted to affect the Inuvik area is higher snowfall and rainfall, which, combined with rising temperatures, leads to faster spring melts, heavier stream flows and flooding, according to a 2019 study in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Hydrometeorology. 

RELATED REPORTING: New study predicts more flooding in Inuvik area as climate warms

Last year saw the fastest melt rate ever recorded for the Beaufort coast's landfast ice, when coastal sea ice freezes to the shore. In 2019 it also melted a month earlier than in 2017.

RELATED REPORTING: Beaufort landfast ice melted at its earliest recorded date in history in 2019