Nahanni Butte holds meeting to prepare for possible evacuation

The Liard River at sunset. Tom Samworth/Dreamstime
The Liard River in a file photo. Tom Samworth/Dreamstime

Nahanni Butte residents gathered on Thursday to hear Chief Steve Vital run through the community’s plan if the river floods.

On Wednesday, the GNWT issued a water monitoring bulletin that warned flow on the South Nahanni River was “well above average,” adding conditions were comparable to previous flood-affected years.

The community, one of the smallest in the Northwest Territories, sits on the South Nahanni River just short of its confluence with the larger Liard River.

“We’re suggesting that people pack all belongings, important files… basically, prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Vital told Cabin Radio after Thursday afternoon’s meeting.



The river has been rising eight inches every 12 hours for the past few days, Vital said. While the NWT government has recommended that the community evacuate to Yellowknife if required, he said, he hopes to provide a closer alternative.

“We’re trying to look at some other options, if they could go to Fort Simpson,” he said.

The band office will have shuttles available for those without vehicles.

A spring 2022 GNWT report found snowpack in the area to be 56 percent higher than normal. High snowpack volumes can be a red flag for flood events. By comparison, Hay River’s snowpack volume was 32 percent higher than normal this year and the town experienced devastating flooding, though much of that could be attributed to an unfortunately timed storm over the Hay River’s basin and the way in which ice on the river broke up.

Snowpack is no guarantee of what’s to come. According to the GNWT report, weather has a more significant impact on water levels. Still, officials have recommended residents of Nahanni Butte and Fort Liard be on high alert this week as the situation evolves.

Fort Liard residents said on Thursday afternoon there was so far little concern in the community, and water levels had been higher earlier in breakup season.

“We’re just preparing for the worst, because it the water is coming up fairly fast,” said Vital in Nahanni Butte.

The NWT government has a guide to help residents prepare for a possible evacuation.

Nahanni Butte experienced particularly bad flooding a decade ago, which led the region’s MLA at the time to tell the legislature relocation of the community should be considered.

That relocation did not occur, but then-MLA Kevin Menicoche urged colleagues a year later – in 2013 – to ensure the same flood could not happen again.

“The community needs adequate resources to continue to support and rebuild,” he said. Nahanni Butte does not want to be forgotten again.”