NNSL Photo/Graphic

Canadian North

Home page text size buttonsbigger textsmall textText size Email this articleE-mail this page

Anniversary of Nahanni Butte flood prompts preparedness
Emergency plan in final stages of development

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, May 9, 2013

With the one-year anniversary of the flooding of the community approaching, the Nahanni Butte Dene Band has already taken extensive steps to prepare for this year's breakup and spring melt.

NNSL photo/graphic

June 9 will mark the one year anniversary of the 2012 flood evacuation of Nahanni Butte. Environment Canada said it can't yet predict if water levels will be high enough this year to cause another flood. - photo courtesy of Wilbert Antoine

June 9 will mark a year to the day that Nahanni Butte was evacuated after the South Nahanni River began flooding low-lying parts of the community.

Approximately 80 people were in the community when the evacuation was called. Fifty-two people were evacuated by plane to Fort Simpson while another 16 were transported by helicopter to their personal vehicles on the other side of the river and chose their own destinations, including Fort Nelson, B.C. Another approximately 21 people chose to remain in the community.

Extensive damage

Residents weren't allowed to return home until late June. The flood caused extensive damage to a number of buildings including the band office, the community's store and the community gymnasium.

The First Nation is in the final stages of completing an emergency plan, said Frank Moretti, the band manager. The chief and band council along with Moretti attended an emergency plan workshop hosted by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs in Fort Simpson in March.

Since then the First Nation has developed an emergency plan in co-ordination with various territorial government departments, Moretti said.

The plan provides detailed instructions about what to do and who should be contacted in the event of a number of emergency scenarios, including a flood or a forest fire.

"It's now almost bulletproof," he said.

With the plan in place the community will be able to react a lot faster in the case of an emergency, he said. As part of the planning process the First Nation reviewed all of its emergency equipment and made a number of purchases including new firefighting equipment, two satellite radios and CB radios for all of the work trucks in the community to improve communications.

"It's been a big project," Moretti said.

Following the flood the First Nation also had a drainage plan for the community developed by a Yellowknife engineering firm.

As part of the plan the First Nation will be starting road upgrades in approximately 2.5 weeks when the roads become drier. The roads that were affected by the flood are the primary focus and the work will spread out from there, said Moretti.

The upgrades will include the installation of new culverts as well as raising the level of the roads. The work is expected to take 2.5 months to complete.

Moretti said he's not concerned about the possibility of the community flooding this year.

"You don't have that kind of flooding every year," he said.

Situation worsened

According to information provided in an e-mail by Environment Canada, the June 2012 flood occurred because the water levels in the Liard and South Nahanni Rivers were both fairly high as a result of snow melt from an above-normal snowpack in the mountains. The situation was worsened by extensive rainfall that occurred over a significant portion of both river's basins, adding to the already above normal water levels.

The water levels broke or came close to breaking historical records on both rivers.

The water gauge on the South Nahanni River above Virginia Falls peaked at 5.94 metres on June 13, 2012, just below the record high of 5.98 metres set on June 10, 2006. There is no water level sensor on the river at Nahanni Butte.

The Liard River at Fort Liard peaked at 9.99 metres on June 11, 2012. That level neared the record high for the period of 1942-2012 of 10.205 metres set on June 6, 1977.

A new record was set at the mouth of the Liard River on June 13 when the river peaked at 9.58 metres, topping all previous records set between 1972 and 2012.

During the flood, the South Nahanni River was approximately two metres above the normal level while the Liard River was approximately four metres above the normal level.

The department said it cannot predict yet if there will be flood causing conditions this year.

As a result of above normal snowfalls in the eastern Yukon, June water levels are likely to be at least normal this year. If more snow or rain falls in June, it could result in higher than normal water levels.

E-mailWe welcome your opinions. Click here to e-mail a letter to the editor.