Harvesters ‘need more support’ over ruinously high water levels

A snowmobile encased in ice near the Taltson River. Photo: Tabled document 304-19(2) in the Legislative Assembly

Harvesters and trappers need more support after high water ruined trapping sites and flooded cabins near the Taltson River, says the MLA representing some of those affected.

Steve Norn, the MLA for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh, said harvesters had lost revenue, equipment and the ability to assert their right to harvest after high water last year led to irreparable damage during freeze-up.

He added items of sentimental value had also been lost and submitted 204 photos from affected trappers showing the damage done.

“Trapping season for a lot of my constituents is washed, it’s done,” Norn said.



Motors outside a cabin stuck in ice amid unusually high water levels. Photo: Legislative Assembly tabled document 304-19(2)
Inside a building near the Taltson River. Photo: Legislative Assembly tabled document 304-19(2)

The NWT Power Corporation says the Taltson River dam played no part in creating the high water levels that ruined cabins and were said to damage surrounding muskrat and beaver habitat.

A spokesperson for the power corporation previously told Cabin Radio its Taltson River dam could not have affected water levels.

In January, 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 above average in November, though that has since dropped.



An outhouse by the Taltson River. Photo: Legislative Assembly tabled document 304-19(2)

Last week, Norn said the flooding “frightened” him and his constituents.

“Imagine going home today and finding your home flooded in a frozen block of ice. This is what some of my constituents had to deal with recently,” he said on February 3.

“I can imagine our ancestors would be hurting if they saw this.”

What the data suggests

Norn said his constituents don’t have the luxury of calling an insurance company and moving to a hotel while the issue is addressed.

He asked Shane Thompson, the environment minister, how the high water levels had occurred.

Thompson said the data was under review. The minister added the Taltson River had been experiencing high water levels since last summer, caused by large amounts of rainfall and snowfall in 2020.

“Available data on the Tazin and the Abitau rivers, which flow to the Tazin
Lake, indicates a very large flow event in mid-to-late August 2020 with slow recession. Water levels in the Tazin Lake have been high enough to cause flow over the existing weir since July 2019, which is extremely rare,” he said.

“This has increased the area flow out to the Taltson River by about 20 percent. ENR issued a public service announcement on November 19, 2020, because of the high water and possibility of unusual freezing this winter and the fall.”



Thompson said a field assessment suggested there will be no long-term impact on marten and beaver populations in the area. No further assessments are currently planned, he said.

A building near the Taltson River. Photo: Legislative Assembly tabled document 304-19(2)

“There is some impact on the beavers, martens and their habitats. Loss of beavers and martens due to flooding occurs periodically, it’s a natural part of the ecosystem,” the minister said on February 3.

“This will release nutrients into the environment and provide a source of food for scavengers, including insects, fish, birds, and other mammals. It is not possible to get an accurate count of the number of muskrats and beavers affected.”

Fur industry in decline

Norn says the fur industry has dwindled over recent decades, to the point where many residents can no longer depend on it for their income.

Some do, however, still sell fur to supplement their earnings and continue the practice as it is important to their culture.

“The cost of living is much higher in our smaller communities and any income helps pay the bills and put food on tables,” he said.

Thompson said ENR had a Hunters and Trappers Disaster Compensation Fund that offered up to $40,000 per site affected.

However, Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos said trappers needed “a proper compensation package.”

Thompson said the department was “being realistic” in what it could offer with the funds available.

“Are we going to be able to them with the whole cost? No. That’s unrealistic in this time of need,” he said.