Fort Liard, Nahanni Butte should be on ‘high alert’ for flooding in coming days, says N.W.T. gov’t

A photo of the Liard River taken in early summer 2021. On June 8, the N.W.T. government said Fort Liard and Nahanni Butte should both be on high alert for possible flooding in the coming days. (Radio-Canada)

The communities of Fort Liard and Nahanni Butte should be on high alert for possible flooding in the coming days, warns the Northwest Territories government.

In a news release Wednesday, the territory said warm weather means the snowmelt from mountains in BC, Yukon and the N.W.T. is starting to make its way into the water system.

That will contribute to high water levels and flow in the Liard and South Nahanni rivers.

The territory said flows on the South Nahanni River are “well above average” and previous flooding of Nahanni Butte happened “when a very high South Nahanni River ran into a very high Liard River,” spilling water up into the community.

“The conditions we’re seeing developing are similar this year,” the release said.

In British Columbia, there has been a flood warning for the Liard River as of Tuesday, saying the river’s level have risen to the point where areas nearby will flood.

The territory also said there was “extremely high snow pack” in the Yukon portion of the basin — about 176 per cent above normal, with the B.C. portion 109 per cent above normal and the lower Liard basin at 156 per cent above normal.

Flows on the Liard River in Yukon are higher than average too, with some sections of the river “being at levels expected every 20 years,” the territory said.

Last month in Fort Liard, water reached the main road in the community, flooded some homes and fell just about 400 metres short from the general store.

Prepare ‘for the worst’

Chief Steve Vital of the Nahɂą Dehé Dene Band in Nahanni Butte believes a flood is imminent.

“It’s high,” he said, of the water. “I think everybody should start preparing for the worst.”

The community has a one-foot mark indicator outside its power plant. If the water reaches that point, the hamlet will start terminating power to the community.

About a foot before that point, around the point where water could breach the road, is when the people would start to leave the community, Vital said.

“Once it reaches the road, the water flow starts to go towards the airstrip. That’s their only means of evacuation,” he said.

Right now, the water level is about two feet away from the point where an evacuation order would happen, Vital said.

A few weeks ago, he said, a meeting was held in the community to prepare for the possibility of a flood, which Vital is “pretty sure it’s gonna happen.”

“We were letting everybody know that they should bring all their personal belongings, elevate them, all their equipment, snowmobiles, etc. We can help relocate them to higher ground,” he said.

“Anything that needs to be moved, we will move, if they need assistance of the band to do that, we are there to help.”

Vital said the mood in the community right now is “cautious.”

“They’re all worried about a flood. With climate change, floods are happening more often. They’re all a little anxious, seeing the water level come up more and more every night,” he said.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Yukon issues flood warning for Pelly River at Ross River, CBC News

Finland: Flooding in Finland is getting worse, new climate report says, Yle News

Sweden: Heavier rainfall will increase risk of landslides and flooding in Sweden, Radio Sweden.

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