An NWT government photo of barges in Tuktoyaktuk harbour.
The NWT government is altering the way barge resupply works this summer because water levels on the Mackenzie River are so low.
River water levels south of Fort Good Hope are currently at 2.7 metres, the territory said in a news release on Monday, adding that the river would become impassable for tugs and barges at two metres.
“These adjustments to the sailing schedule and mode of transportation may impact and inconvenience some MTS customers,” said infrastructure minister Diane Archie in a statement, using an initialism for Marine Transportation Services, the government-run service that oversees barging.
“They are necessary to reduce risk, complete essential resupply activities and have a successful 2023 sailing season.”
All cargo bound for Inuvik, Aklavik, Tuktoyaktuk, Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour, Ulukhaktok and Kugluktuk that would ordinarily travel from Hay River via barge will now be trucked to Inuvik then barged to the six other communities, the territory stated.
Fuel will be delivered by tanker to Tuktoyaktuk and then barged to Inuvik, Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour and Ulukhaktok, as was done last year.
The Mackenzie River’s low water levels have also affected private barging companies.
Michael Cooper – the president of Cooper Services, which runs barges on the Mackenzie and Liard rivers – said low water levels were having an impact.
“In addition, the shortage of qualified workers is also having an effect, although it is not as significant,” Cooper said by email.
Barges are a vital component of northern logistics as they allow fuel and freight to get into isolated communities far more cost-effectively than other options like air transport.
But the NWT has endured multiple disrupted barging seasons in recent years.
Monday’s announcement was the first public indication from the territorial government that this summer’s barge resupply season is not going to plan.
Before that announcement came, Mayor of Norman Wells Frank Pope said that if the GNWT didn’t already have concerns, “we in the community sure as heck do.”
Norman Wells relies on MTS to receive groceries, diesel and turbojet fuel, Pope said. On Monday, the NWT government said there was no immediate change to cargo acceptance dates and service for Norman Wells.
“We’re going to make some plans here, but we can’t just conjure up a way to get material here as far as all the stuff that we need,” Pope said last week, asking for the GNWT to “talk to us or maybe let us know what their plans are, if they have a plan.”
“They’re just very quiet and very silent right now,” he said at the time. “We’re not hearing anything from them.”