The Mayo River at the Mayo B dam in August 2010. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News)

Researchers to study climate change impacts on Mayo, Aishihik rivers

‘Climate change is already impacting Yukon rivers and lakes in ways we don’t fully understand’

By Jamie-Lee McKenzie

A three-year research project will study the effects of climate change on the Mayo and Aishihik rivers.

“We’re excited to bring together our local expertise in hydrology with an advanced expertise in computer modelling of hydrology,” said project coordinator Brian Horton.

The study will look at how long-term changes in temperature and precipitation might affect the flow of these rivers in the future. This study follows a similar three-year study of the Yukon River that was recently completed.

The $1-million project combines two grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and funding from the Yukon Energy Corporation, the Northern Climate ExChange and the Institut national de la reserche scientifique.

“I hope that it’ll produce a range of tools that can be used by Yukon Energy in the years to come,” said Horton. The research will also help Yukon Energy make long-term plans for generate hydro power by looking ahead two to three decades to project how much temperature and precipitation will change and how that will impact the flow in the Mayo and Aishihik river basins, he said.

“We generate 99 per cent of our energy from hydro in the Yukon, so having a long-term view on how climate change may impact our ability to generate that power is very important for our long term planning,” said Yukon Energy president Andrew Hall.

For rivers with dams, if increased flow happens in the spring or summer, most of that water runs straight through and is not held by the dam, so it can’t be used to generate electricity, said Horton. But if the increased flows are happening more in the fall and winter, that’s actually good news for generating electricity.

“It means if you’re able to generate more electricity in the winter using hydro power you don’t have to burn as much diesel,” he said.

The study of the Yukon River came from concerns about the amount of glacial run-off into the Yukon river from climate change, but the results found that there would be a slight increase in flow, said Hall.

The results from that study estimate that the flow in the Yukon River will increase in the fall and winter months but stay relatively the same in the summer months, said Horton.

“That’s actually a good thing for us because the electric loads are higher in the winter months, so the fact that the increase is expected in the fall and winter actually fits our electric load quite well,” said Hall.

The research project will be studying rivers on the traditional territory of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation and the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun “We are really hopeful that we can get a discussion going with each First Nation,” said Horton.

“Many of the First Nations members are out on the land way more than us, so we’re hopeful that we’re able to have a conversation with them that allows us to check our findings with what the people have been seeing,” he said.

“Climate change is already impacting Yukon rivers and lakes in ways we don’t fully understand.”

Contact the Yukon News at editor@yukon-news.com