Yukon Energy gets OK to drop water levels at Marsh Lake another 10 cm

·2 min read
The Lewes River control structure, south of Whitehorse. Yukon Energy said it opened all the gates at the structure which regulates water flow going downstream towards Whitehorse and north of the territory, eventually emptying into the Bering Sea. (Michel Proulx/CBC - image credit)
The Lewes River control structure, south of Whitehorse. Yukon Energy said it opened all the gates at the structure which regulates water flow going downstream towards Whitehorse and north of the territory, eventually emptying into the Bering Sea. (Michel Proulx/CBC - image credit)

In an effort to help prevent flooding in the Southern Lakes area, Yukon Energy was given the green light to lower the level of Marsh Lake by an additional 10 centimetres.

The Yukon Water Board granted the utility permission to lower the levels last week.

Marsh Lake, a 30-kilometre long glacier-fed lake, is the northernmost of several lakes that make up the Southern Lakes district.

Last July, rapid snow melt caused serious flooding in parts of the Yukon, compelling the territorial government to declare a state of emergency for the Southern Lakes and Lake Laberge areas.

"We're actually in pretty good shape on Marsh Lake [this year]," said Andrew Hall, president and CEO of Yukon Energy.

Gates open at control structure

Hall said the gates have been opened at the Lewes River control structure, which regulates the water flow out of Marsh Lake toward Whitehorse, since mid-March, with the exception of a few days in April to make sure the level didn't go too low.

"At this time of year, it's a fairly fine balancing act in terms of water flows," he said.

Hall said the lake is about 40 centimetres lower than it was last year, when it caused flooding.

He added that the utility can also regulate water flow into Whitehorse through the Whitehorse dam on Schwatka Lake, south of downtown.

"It's actually a very effective tool to pull more water through the system," said Hall.

While Hall said the utility hasn't had to adjust the Whitehorse dam yet, he said it's "probably something we'll start to do once the freshet hits." He anticipates lowering the Schwatka water level by up to a meter until possibly July or later.

Marsh Lake resident Rick Metcalfe thinks that's too late. He said Yukon Energy should open the gates at the Whitehorse dam now, to allow the water to flow down the Yukon River.

"The flooding is caused by the people not opening the gates to let the water out," he said. "That is the bottom line of it all, period."

'Better outlook'

The Yukon government recently released its April 1 snowpack survey in which it said the snowpack level in the area is above average, but well below what it was last year.

The Upper Yukon River Basin, which encompasses the Southern Lakes and Whitehorse area, is at 145 per cent above the average median compared to 196 per cent it was at last year, according to the government report.

"It's a better outlook," said Hannah Goulding, a senior hydrologist with the Yukon government.

She added the weather in the next few months, specifically the speed at which the snow melt occurs and the amount of rain the area receives, will ultimately determine if flooding will take place again.

Hall said that as part of the deal with the water board, Yukon Energy agreed to monitor fish and wildlife habitat on the lake.

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