Yukon Southern Lakes residents in 'emergency mode' as water levels rise

·3 min read
Gil Bradet stacks sandbags on the shores of Marsh Lake at South M'Clintock on Tuesday. 'We are facing an extraordinary amount of water,' Bradet said. 'It's not abnormal because we are on a lake. But I've never seen the water come up so fast and this high at this time of year.' (Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Gil Bradet stacks sandbags on the shores of Marsh Lake at South M'Clintock on Tuesday. 'We are facing an extraordinary amount of water,' Bradet said. 'It's not abnormal because we are on a lake. But I've never seen the water come up so fast and this high at this time of year.' (Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Residents in Yukon's Southern Lakes region are bracing for the worst as water levels continue to creep dangerously high.

Thousands of sandbags have been filled, and other measures are being taken to minimize any potential damage.

In Bennett Lake, Tagish Lake and Marsh Lake water levels rose about 10 centimetres or more in the last 24 hours, according to a Yukon government flood warning issued for the area on Tuesday.

It's possible water levels could reach historic peaks by the weekend.

The situation is keeping Patrick Brown, the operations and maintenance manager with Carcross and Tagish First Nations, very busy.

In Carcross, where Bennett Lake drains into the Nares River, Brown said the water is much higher than "we would like it to be" and he added it doesn't seem to be stopping "anytime soon."

"We're in emergency mode," he said. "We're putting in some berms right now to protect the properties and heritage sites along the waterfront here."

Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada
Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada



According to Brown, elders have said the water levels on the Nares River are higher than the typical peak in August. He says those that lived through the 2007 flood in the area say the current water levels are worrisome, along with the remaining snowpack yet to melt.

"When everybody looks up on top of the mountains around here, they're still covered in snow. So we're all concerned," Brown said. "We're just taking the appropriate emergency measures to make sure that we can protect the citizens."

The snowpack in the Upper Yukon River Basin was historically high this year, at 196 per cent of normal on April 1. Tuesday's flood warning said a cold spring meant a delayed melt and "215 per cent of normal snowpack on May 1."

Brown said that on Tuesday morning the water levels were about five inches below the main steel frame structure underneath the bridge in Carcross. But by 4 p.m. that day, the water was touching that part of the bridge. As well, part of the waterfront road that goes underneath the newly-constructed highway bridge is starting to slump.

He thinks Yukon Highways and Public Works might make a decision to either close that or start making emergency repairs to it.

Because of the heavy snowfall in the winter, Brown said his community began buying sandbags in March to get prepared.

Work is also underway to create impermeable membranes out of sand, rock and rolls of plastic sheet.

Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada
Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada



"Basically we're rolling that out along the waterfront. And we're using excavators to fill that with sand and rock material. Then you fold it over like an envelope kind of like a burrito," he explained.

"You can build those up to like four feet high on the first layer and you can run those 100 feet sections at a time," he said, adding they're having to run it possibly close to 2,000 feet at this point to protect local structures.

Currently, Brown said they are focusing on the south side of Nares River.

Brown said COVID-19 precautions and wildfire season is "making everything more difficult."

"For us here, we're following the government mandate … that's why we've employed more machinery to get things done quicker and so that we need less people along the waterfront to do that work. But it hinders that for sure," he said.

Paul Tukker/CBC
Paul Tukker/CBC



To add to that, wildland fire crews, who are typically "critical" for helping with flood preparations and other emergency response, are busy with wildfires.

Gil Bradet, who lives along South M'Clintock Road near Marsh Lake, said people there are filling sandbags in an effort to get ready.

"We are facing an extraordinary amount of water," Bradet said. "It's not abnormal because we are on a lake. But I've never seen the water come up so fast and this high at this time of year."



Bradet is also urging boaters to slow down. He said even small waves can damage property right now.

As of Tuesday, crews had filled more than 33,000 sandbags to help residents protect their homes.

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