Communities in the Sahtu and Beaufort Delta regions of the Northwest Territories remain on alert as impacts from the break-up of the Mackenzie River make their way upstream.
The territory’s Dehcho region has been heavily impacted by major flooding this season, which displaced hundreds of residents in Fort Simpson and Jean Marie River. The Canadian Rangers have been mobilized to assist with relief efforts in the area and help monitor the situation along the Mackenzie River.
Fort Simpson is currently under a boiled water advisory as water services are restored. Mayor Sean Whelly said on Facebook Tuesday afternoon that water service is expected to return to the community Wednesday evening, and plans are underway to start bringing evacuees back to their homes starting tomorrow.
Communities further north are preparing for potential emergencies as the water and ice continue to make their way to the Arctic Ocean. Both Tulita and Fort Good Hope are on flood watch, while Aklavik and Fort McPherson are at “elevated risk.”
Tulita Mayor Douglas Yallee said last week: “It’s not normal. Climate change has really twisted everything around here.”
When Cabin Radio contacted Yallee for an update on Tuesday, he said the break-up has gone well so far, and water levels are dropping.
“The ice is going down perfectly – no concerns,” Yallee said. “We don’t want the water to backup, but other than that, there’s no issue. It seems to be fine.”
Yallee said the hamlet will continue to monitor the situation in case anything changes. Hamlet staff have also been working with at-risk households to move heavy equipment to higher ground and empty fuel and sewage tanks.
‘We’re still expecting it to flood’
Upstream in Fort Good Hope, community incident commander Roger Plouffe said fourteen at-risk households have been voluntarily evacuated, with residents staying elsewhere in the community. Fuel tanks and sewage lines in the area have been emptied.
A state of emergency has not yet been declared, but Plouffe said water levels are nearly at the threshold where one could be triggered.
“We are close to our cut-off point where if it goes any higher, it will start coming into the lowest areas of the community,” he said. “It does that every few hours; it goes up three feet, then it moves someplace downstream and goes down three feet.
“We’re still expecting it to flood.”
In the Beaufort Delta, Aklavik has held several meetings with representatives from the hamlet, the RCMP, local Indigenous governments, and others to discuss plans for potential flooding.
Mayor Andrew Charlie said the community is “trying to keep calm.”
“Right now, everything is normal,” he said. “We still have hunters out traveling on the rivers. Waters are still normal. When it gets here, it gets here, and we’re just preparing right now.”
Charlie warned those using the river and travelling on the land to be aware of conditions as the ice melts. He said a state of emergency would most likely be declared in the community if flooding on the roads closes access to the dump and sewage lagoon.
Improving flood plans, bylaws
Ice has begun moving in Fort McPherson, where Mayor Richard Nerysoo said water is slowly starting to rise.
He said the flood risk in the community has been “manageable so far,” however there are concerns for the safety of those out on the land.
“Because of all the flooding that has occurred in Jean Marie River and Fort Simpson … we know that water is coming,” Nerysoo said. “The question is, what impact is it going to have on the level of water in the Mackenzie Delta, and in fact … on the water levels even in the Peel River?”
A gathering for leaders from the hamlet, the Teetl’it Gwich’in Band Council, RCMP, and other service providers is being held on Wednesday to establish “what the rules are, that we have the right phone numbers, the right team, who is doing what is things happen, and where do we go,” according to Nerysoo.
“Part of that is a conversation about actually improving our emergency policies and our bylaws so that people understand who is responsible where and what needs to be done,” Nerysoo said.
“That’s kind of getting us ready for what may or may not happen.”