Yukon group tackles garbage overflow, a year after historic floods

·3 min read
Justin Hooper, left, and John Lavallee clean up some of the Lake Laberge shoreline north of Whitehorse earlier this week.  (Anna Desmarais/CBC - image credit)
Justin Hooper, left, and John Lavallee clean up some of the Lake Laberge shoreline north of Whitehorse earlier this week. (Anna Desmarais/CBC - image credit)

While flood season is on the minds of many Yukoners right now, one environmental group in the territory is thinking about what's left behind.

The Lake Laberge Renewable Resources Council decided to call on volunteers across the territory to help clean up the lakeshore. The area just north of Whitehorse was one of the hardest hit by last summer's historic flooding.

"We've been hearing anecdotally from residents that there's been a lot more garbage," Justin Hooper, the council's co-chair, told CBC News during a beachside cleanup.

"Just where we're situated, downstream of Whitehorse, we get a bit more of it than, say, other areas, and during a flood year just so much more of that is mobilized by the high water."

The situation was so severe last year that the Yukon government called a state of emergency for Lake Laberge and the Southern Lakes region, and issued evacuation orders or warnings for some residents.

Hooper, his co-chair John Lavallee and Charolette O'Donnell, cleaned up a one-kilometre section of the Laberge lakeshore Wednesday night. It didn't take any of them very long to find garbage, strewn along the rocks and in the bushes.

Anna Desmarais/CBC
Anna Desmarais/CBC

"Well, we haven't gone very far and we got four tires and a chair and some bigger things to remove," Hooper said.

The night before, Hooper found a small jug full of oil, which he said could have caused a small spill in the lake.

Lavallee, the council's other co-chair, grew up in a house along the lakeshore. In recent years, his mom moved the house to higher ground to avoid any flood damage.

Lavallee, a citizen of both the Ta'an K'wäch'än Council and the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, said it's "upsetting" to see so much garbage on the lakeshore because it's important to protect the wildlife for future generations.

Anna Desmarais/CBC
Anna Desmarais/CBC

"You know one day I'm going to have grandkids and I want to be able to show them how to fish salmon, fillet and eat it through the winter," Lavallee said.

Lavallee and Hooper are asking the public to keep waste in mind during the flood season.

"I would ask people to think about, once … their properties are as protected as they can be, to move some of that potentially floating garbage from their lawns," Hooper said.

The council is looking for volunteers to help their cleanup effort. People can choose a section of the lake they want to clean, fill out an intake form and document what they find.

The Yukon government said in an emailed statement that it has not kept track of garbage or waste associated with last year's flood events.

But, the statement continued, how waste is disposed of after a flood event is something that the Yukon has to plan for.

Anna Desmarais/CBC
Anna Desmarais/CBC

"As climate change leads to an increase in the frequency and severity of flood events and other natural disasters, the question of how to manage this waste will need to be built into emergency management best practices," the statement reads.

What governments could do, the statement continues, is "design and build" new infrastructure that would mitigate waste. It does not go into detail on what that could look like.

The statement also suggests that those living in flood-prone areas should clean up waste on their properties and get rid of items that could be swept away by high water.

The public should take waste they find during a flood and bring it to a local solid waste facility.

Record-high snowpack this past winter in Yukon has increased the risk of flooding again this year in many parts of the territory. A government advisory last week said water levels on lakes and rivers were well above average, though the Southern Lakes are below average.

High streamflow and flood watch advisories have already been issued for some areas.

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