Water levels rising again in Fort Simpson, reaching highest levels yet

·3 min read
Water levels rising again in Fort Simpson, reaching highest levels yet
Rising water levels limited access to the island on which the community of Fort Simpson is built, as seen in this aerial image taken May 14 around noon. (Laurie Ozmun Nadia/Facebook - image credit)
Rising water levels limited access to the island on which the community of Fort Simpson is built, as seen in this aerial image taken May 14 around noon. (Laurie Ozmun Nadia/Facebook - image credit)

Water levels in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., are rising to new extremes.

Local resident Brandon Buggins told CBC on Friday that the water levels are the highest they have been this season, rising above 16 meters.

Last Friday, the Liard River broke, triggering a local state of emergency, and eventually, mandatory evacuation for those who live on the island, which rests on low ground. Mandatory evacuation was triggered at 14 meters.

Over 700 people have been displaced and evacuated to higher ground or to other N.W.T., communities.

In Dene Zhatie, Fort Simpson is called Líídlįį Kúę, which means the "place where two rivers meet." The community rests at the foot of two vast rivers, leaving residents at the whim of how the rivers behave as they break up.

Laurie Ozmun Nadia uploaded this photo of Fort Simpson to Facebook at about 11 a.m. Friday. Water levels are said to be rising in the village again.
Laurie Ozmun Nadia uploaded this photo of Fort Simpson to Facebook at about 11 a.m. Friday. Water levels are said to be rising in the village again.(Laurie Ozmun Nadia/Facebook)

Now, the Deh Cho — the Mackenzie River — has also broken. Buggins said that from what he's seen, the river is jammed upstream. Temperatures have dipped over the past couple days, potentially affecting how the river will move.

The village of Fort Simpson posted on Facebook earlier on Friday that water levels were fluctuating, and stopped allowing access onto the island as a result.

Another post said that they halted water delivery until water levels stabilize and asked residents to conserve water.

In an interview with CBC's The Trailbreaker this morning, Fort Simpson Mayor Sean Whelly said that the water levels have crept over roads, limiting accessibility.

For example, the Rowe's subdivision, which is on high ground but accessed mainly through a road on lower ground, was inaccessible last night, leaving one resident stuck, Whelly said.

Uncertainty has emotional toll on residents

Calling from the camping area where many evacuees are resting, referred to as "tent city," Buggins says he's seeing first-hand how uncertainty is affecting the community.

"You can see it in people's faces, they're in panic mode, and they're stressed," he said.

Many are trying to remain positive, but the situation is weighing on people, he said. He added that there are mental health workers around for people to talk to and that people should reach out if they are feeling stressed or unwell.

Whelly visited "tent city" last night, where about 40 people are camped out. He said people were doing well, given the situation.

"They're anxious to see just how high this river might go and waiting to see if the Mackenzie will release," he said.

Whelly said the extent of damage remains unknown.

"There are homes that have had water in their house, completely," he said.

He added that the community's arbour is nearly entirely submerged. It is normally important place for gathering for the community, providing a place to heal, hold drum dances, exchange ideas and share oral histories.

An aerial view of the first round of flooding in Fort Simpson. Residents were braced as water rose again Friday.
An aerial view of the first round of flooding in Fort Simpson. Residents were braced as water rose again Friday. (Christine Horesay)

Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya said that the situation is "unprecedented."

"We're getting hit with a double whammy of the flood situations and… COVID-19," he said.

The Dene Nation has established a flood relief "command centre" of their own to coordinate relief efforts with local governments, volunteers, and people on the ground.

"I can't imagine what they're going through, but we want to be there as much as we can because we know the people who are in these situations. They must be feeling a lot of loss."

Yakeleya said that "our first priority is the safety and protection of our people."

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