The NWT Power Corporation said its Taltson River dam had no involvement in high water levels that ruined cabins and were said to damage surrounding muskrat and beaver habitat.
Fort Resolution trapper Arthur Beck, a 63-year-old who has spent his life in the region, this week shared photos on Facebook showing water levels he estimated at 12 feet above the norm.
“All the cabins on the Taltson River are flooded except two,” Beck told Cabin Radio, saying his trapping season was over as a result.
“All the equipment, skidoos, motors, boats, generators, traps – they are all under ice, you can’t get them.
“The biggest impact is really on the muskrats and beavers. They have holes underground and they had no place to go, they can’t get out because they were boxed in by the ice.
“There’s a lot of work to do in the future. We’re going to have to build our cabins up a little higher.”
The territorial government is sending a team this weekend to assess the flooding’s impact and speak with those affected.
Beck said he had seen similar impacts in the 1960s as a child and occasionally in the 1970s and 1980s.
He said he was sure the NWT Power Corporation had released water from its upstream Taltson facility several times in recent months.
His Facebook post on the matter, containing various images of ice frozen throughout cabins, had been shared well over 200 times by Friday afternoon.
The power corporation – also known as NTPC – told Cabin Radio its operations at Taltson played no part in creating high water levels downstream.
“Water levels in lakes, rivers and streams throughout the NWT have been higher than normal over the past year. This has caused land and property damage in a number of communities. High water levels in the Taltson River are the result of natural river flow and not a result of NTPC’s operations,” said Doug Prendergast, a spokesperson for the corporation, by email on Friday.
Prendergast said there was “considerable misunderstanding” about how NTPC’s Taltson facility affects downstream water levels and flow.
“There were no planned or unplanned water releases from the Taltson facility that could have resulted in higher downstream water levels. There were no other operational changes at the Taltson facility in 2020 that would have had an impact on water levels,” he said.
Prendergast did acknowledge “several unusual peak flows” registered in late December and early January, but stated these were “not a result of flow releases from Taltson” and may instead have been related to debris and ice jams.
He expressed the opinion that residents’ concerns may stem from what happens at much larger hydro dams, which, he said, can have a “high impact … on the surrounding area.”
Taltson, said Prendergast, is on nothing like the same scale.
“Large hydroelectric facilities in other jurisdictions have generation capacities of hundreds or thousands of megawatts,” he wrote.
“By comparison, Taltson has a generation capacity of 18 megawatts.”
MLA will raise issue in House
Nevertheless, Steve Norn – the Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA who represents Fort Resolution residents like Beck – said he was looking into the matter.
Norn said he needed more information and was planning to speak with Elders who know the area.
“My heart goes out to the hunters and trappers. I want to make sure they get compensated in some way because that’s their livelihood,” Norn told Cabin Radio.
The MLA said he had been particularly affected by Beck’s images of cabins full of ice.
“Imagine going home today and your house is a big block of ice. That would be devastating. It’s traumatizing, it affects a lot of these folks on an emotional level.”
Norn plans to bring the matter to the legislature in February when MLAs resume sitting.
ENR dispatches staff, promises support
A water level chart derived from federal data shows the water below the Taltson dam is some two metres higher in January 2021 than it was at the same time last year.
Roughly a month of data between November and December 2020 is missing. The federal government’s website stated Covid-19 had more generally disrupted collection of measurements, though it wasn’t clear if that explained the specific absence of the data in question.
Beck said he found the lack of that data concerning.
The NWT’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) described water levels in the area as “unprecedented.”
By email, the department said water flows on the Tazin River – a Taltson tributary – were six times higher than average in October, and the Taltson itself had a flow three times the average in November, though that has since dropped slightly.
The department said its staff would travel to Fort Resolution and the Taltson River over the weekend, by snow machine and air, “to collect data and speak with local trappers and land users … to discuss the scope and impact of the flooding.”
In a statement, the department added: “Hunting and trapping are of the utmost importance to the livelihood of many residents in the region and ENR is committed to gathering further information about the flooding and high water conditions.
“ENR continues to advise that anyone travelling on the land use caution given the high water and flows that have been experienced this past year which have extended into the winter.
“We continue to gather data on the high water levels throughout the NWT this year, and are looking into the cause of the issues specific to the Taltson River.”